Hurricane Irma makes landfall in Florida Keys
Hurricane Irma was downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane on Sunday afternoon, making a second landfall at 3:35 p.m. on Marco Island just south of Naples in Florida’s Gulf Coast, with sustained winds near 120 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center reported.
While the storm was weakening slightly, forecasters indicated it would remain a powerful storm as it moved “near or along the west coast of Florida” before branching inland through northern Florida and into Georgia by Monday afternoon.
More than 2.1 million customers were without power on Sunday, as torrential rains continued to grip the state’s coasts and flooding inundated the city of Miami and elsewhere.
Hurricane Irma first made landfall on Cudjoe Key in southern Florida early Sunday morning, bringing Category 4 winds that reached 130 miles per hour.
Irma tore through south Florida before turning up the west coast of the state, with forecasters predicting the eye would hit the Naples-Fort Myers area.
The storm could bring up to 25 inches of rain to portions of the state and the center issued a storm surge warning for rising water that could reach 15 feet, with the deepest water occurring along the coast.
The National Weather Service cautioned residents should move to interior rooms and stay away from windows.
Late Sunday morning, 94-mile-per-hour wind gusts were reported at Miami International Airport and in In Hollywood, Florida, the winds caused a construction crane to topple.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said during a press conference Sunday afternoon that the storm was roughly 80 miles from Naples, where it is expected to strike later on Sunday.
“Stay safe, be prepared, listen to local evacuation advisories,” Scott said.
7,000 members of the Florida National Guard have been called up, with 2,000 supporting 200 of 500 emergency shelters now in place across the state. At least 700 national guardsmen are preparing to set up food and water distribution sites and another 10,000 guardsmen from 14 states are heading to Florida to assist in emergency operations.
Scott said he requested to a major disaster declaration from President Donald Trump, and that 500 shelters are now open across the state. More than 6.5 million people had been ordered to evacuate before the storm.
Joining National Guard efforts, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service are preparing to dispatch 200 officers in search and rescue operations using a combination of air and patrol boats, trucks and ATVs. More than 500 law enforcement vessels are on standby.
“We are prepared to sustain these resources as long as necessary,” said Nick Wiley, the service’s executive director.
Scott said the threat of Hurricane Irma would continue through the night and into Sunday, with many major cities in southern Florida issuing mandatory curfews.
He said he was unable to tell the number of people evacuating their homes across the state. “There’s a lot of unknowns, and that’s what you worry about,” he said. “I hope everybody survives and i’m praying that they will.”