Irma begins to batter Florida with powerful winds; tornadoes reported


Posted on: September 9th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(MIAMI) — Hurricane Irma is edging closer and closer to Florida as millions brace for the impact of the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade.

Powerful winds of nearly 70 mph and tornados are already being reported in parts of south Florida and the Florida Keys Saturday evening. A tornado watch is in effect across the area, and two such twisters have already been reported.

As of about 8 p.m. Saturday, Irma was 110 miles southeast of Key West with sustained winds of 120 mph. It was moving west, and is expected to turn north and head up the western coast of Florida, making landfall on Sunday.

#Irma churning just north of Cuba. Heavy rain & gusty winds ~60kts here at @NWSKeyWest. #KeyWest pic.twitter.com/5TX3STtT7j

— Brandon Fling (@fling40) September 9, 2017

The storm, which was downgraded to Category 3 after making landfall as a rare Category 5 hurricane in Cuba overnight, has sent 75,000 people into shelters in Florida. More than six million people have been warned to evacuate its path.

Several counties and cities in south Florida have issued a curfew as the storm draws near. Palm Beach and Broward counties entered a curfew earlier this afternoon, and Charlotte County and the City of Miami Beach will enter one later tonight.

Some 10,000 flights have been cancelled in anticipation of Irma, about 7,000 of them in Florida alone.

President Trump tweeted a video from a Cabinet meeting Saturday, telling people to “get out of” Irma’s way.

“Property is replaceable but lives are not. and safety has to come first. Don’t worry about it, get out of its way,” Trump said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott called the storm unprecedented.

“This is a life-threatening situation,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday. “Our state has never seen anything like it.”

The governor stressed the dangers of what he called a “deadly, deadly, deadly storm surge.”

ABC News meteorologists are forecasting storm surges of 10 feet in Tampa and Sarasota, and 10 to 15 feet from Fort Myers to Naples. Somewhat lower storm surges of 3 to 6 feet may occur from Miami to Key Largo.

Winds were already picking up in Florida early Saturday, with gusts between 40 and 60 mph.

Hurricane-force winds with gusts over 115 mph are possible in the Keys by daybreak Sunday.

A few tornadoes are possible and a tornado watch was issued Saturday for southern Florida.

Power outages, halted flights and empty ATMs in Florida

Florida’s governor said 25,000 power outages were reported as of Saturday.

The state’s residents should anticipate days-long power outages, FEMA said.

Ahead of Irma’s arrival in the Sunshine State, the last flights departed Friday night from Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Miami’s airport officially remains open, while Fort Lauderdale’s airport is closed for Saturday and Sunday.

Irma ‘is going to devastate the United States’: FEMA

The National Hurricane Center on Friday cautioned that Irma’s winds would likely be strong enough to uproot trees, bring down power poles and rip off the roofs and some exterior walls of well-built frame homes.

“Obviously Hurricane Irma continues to be a threat that is going to devastate the United States,” Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said at a press conference Friday morning. “We’re going to have a couple rough days.”

Millions evacuate; many others take shelter

Approximately 6.3 million Floridians are under mandatory or voluntary evacuations, the Florida Division of Emergency Management said Saturday. When evacuation orders in South Carolina and Georgia are included, the number climbs to 6.8 million.

Germain Arena, a large shelter between Naples and Fort Myers along Florida’s west coast, is already at capacity Saturday as hundreds of people were in line waiting to get in.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez said Saturday morning about 25,000 residents are sheltered in Miami-Dade alone, a number he called “unprecedented in our history.”

“We must remain vigilant,” Giménez said. “The storm will still strengthen … and we will be impacted.”

Palm Beach County has issued a curfew to prevent looting and other criminal activity as the storm approaches, according to a press release. The curfew goes into effect Saturday at 3 p.m. It is unclear when it will be lifted. Broward County set a curfew for 4 p.m. Saturday and said no unauthorized vehicles will be allowed on the roads.

Irma turns to U.S. after pummeling the Caribbean leaving at least 20 dead

Multiple people have died and thousands were left homeless after Irma battered a string of Caribbean islands on Wednesday. At the time, Irma was a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph.

At least three people died from the storm in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

The Turks and Caicos islands were hit hard as Irma passed over the tiny archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. A government spokesperson told ABC News the British overseas territory had sustained “catastrophic” damage.

The National Hurricane Center warned of a storm surge up to 20 feet on Turks and Caicos with 8 to 12 inches of rain for the low-lying islands through Sunday.

Long, the FEMA administrator, said Friday that the agency’s primary goal is to “stabilize the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico” by restoring power, maintaining security and bringing in life-sustaining supplies.

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