Storm chews up Miami on steady march north

Boats ride out the storm Sunday in a marina in Miami. The size of the storm meant the entire state would be affected.
Boats ride out the storm Sunday in a marina in Miami. The size of the storm meant the entire state would be affected.
Published Sept. 11, 2017

MIAMI — A monster Hurricane Irma roared into Florida with 130 mph winds Sunday for what was a sustained assault on nearly the entire Sunshine State, submerging streets, knocking out power to millions and snapping massive construction cranes over the Miami skyline.

The 400-mile-wide storm blew ashore Sunday morning in the mostly cleared-out Florida Keys and then began a slow march up the state's west coast. Forecasters predicted it would hit the heavily populated Tampa-St. Petersburg area early today.

"Pray, pray for everybody in Florida," Gov. Rick Scott said on Fox News Sunday as more than 160,000 people statewide waited it out in shelters.

Irma struck as a Category 4 but by late afternoon had weakened to a Category 2 with 110 mph winds that whipped Florida's palm trees with drenching squalls. A storm surge of over 10 feet was recorded in the Keys, and forecasters warned some places on the mainland could get up to 15 feet of water.

There were no immediate confirmed reports of any deaths in Florida. Twenty-four people were killed during Irma's destructive trek across the Caribbean.

Many streets were flooded in downtown Miami and other cities. In the low-lying Keys, boats were reported sunk and appliances and furniture were seen floating away, but the full extent of Irma's fury there was not clear.

In Miami-Dade, Irma's fierce winds bent a construction crane in half, tore a roof off a gas station and left streets throughout the county littered with felled trees and palm fronds. The waters took their toll on Miami Beach and downtown Miami, leaving some areas in Brickell with waist-deep flooding.

In Hialeah, Irma knocked out power at the regional sewage pump station. City officials asked residents to limit flushing and be aware sewage could back up into their homes.

Deputy National Hurricane Center director Mark DeMaria said Hurricane Irma's slight wobble to the right on Sunday was not unexpected.

The wobble, which kept Irma's eye within 100 miles of Miami-Dade County, meant the high sustained tropical storm winds and hurricane gusts that rocked southeastern Florida would continue into the evening.

DeMaria said the National Hurricane Center on the west campus of Florida International University had recorded several gusts close to or over 100 mph.

If the powerful and large storm continues on its predicted track, DeMaria said, it would mean that by the time Irma leaves Florida, all of the state will have experienced strong tropical storm or hurricane winds.

The south to north scenario along a coastline that Irma seems to be taking has long been seen as the most problematic for Floridians because of the few places it leaves for residents to flee from the storm.

In Irma's case, traveling along the west coast, southeast Florida gets the storm's "strong side," DeMaria said.

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An apparent tornado spun off by Irma destroyed six mobile homes in Palm Bay, hundreds of miles away along the state's Atlantic coast. Flooding was reported along Interstate 4, which cuts across Florida's midsection.

In downtown Miami, two of the two dozen construction cranes looming over the skyline collapsed in the wind. No injuries were reported. City officials said it would have taken about two weeks to move the massive equipment.

Curfews were imposed in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and much of the rest of South Florida, and some arrests of violators were reported. Miami Beach barred outsiders from the island.

Fort Lauderdale police arrested nine people they said were caught on TV cameras looting sneakers and other items from a sporting goods store and a pawn shop during the hurricane.

More than 2.7 million homes and businesses across the state were without power, and utility officials said it will take weeks to restore electricity to everyone.

While the projected track showed Irma raking the state's Gulf Coast, forecasters warned that the entire state was in danger because of the sheer size of the storm.

Nearly 7 million people in the Southeast were warned to evacuate, including 6.4 million in Florida alone.

President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration for Florida, opening the way for federal aid.

For days, forecasters had warned that Irma was taking dead aim at the Miami area and the rest of Florida's Atlantic coast.

But then Irma made a more pronounced westward shift — the result of what meteorologists said was an atmospheric tug-of-war between weather systems that nudged Irma and determined when it made its crucial right turn into Florida.

Irma at one time was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, a Category 5 with a peak wind speed of 185 mph.

The storm brought memories of Hurricane Charley, which blew ashore near Fort Myers in 2004 with winds near 149 mph. It caused $15 billion in damage and was blamed for as many as 35 deaths in the United States.

Information from the Miami Herald was used in this report.