Hurricane Irma Rips Through Florida Keys, Heads Up Southwest Coast Toward Tampa
As was feared over the last few days, Hurricane Irma finally made landfall on the continental U.S. Sunday morning, battering the Florida Keys first and then proceeding north to the southwestern coast of the Sunshine State.
Though the storm has been downgraded from a Category 5 (which it was as it tore through the Caribbean, killing 27 people) to a Category 3, with sustained winds of 120 mph and gusts of much more, it remains powerful and large enough still to inflict catastrophic damage across the entire state.
Early Sunday afternoon (Sept. 10), the immense, 400-mile-wide hurricane was bearing down on the Gulf Coast as it continues on its path north at about 12 mph. According to the National Hurricane Center, "Life-threatening wind and storm surge from Irma will continue in the Florida Keys and southwestern Florida today and spread into central and northwestern Florida tonight and Monday."
The eye of the hurricane hit the city of Naples at around 4 p.m. Storm surge is now the greatest threat, and the N.H.C. has urged everyone to "MOVE AWAY FROM THE WATER." The surge is expected to reach 10 to 15 feet above sea level, more than enough to submerge one-story buildings.
Irma is powerful enough to already be pulling water away from Tampa Bay's shores, even though it is still hours away from landing there. It has led to numerous tornadoes as well. The storm has knocked out power for more than 1.6 million homes and businesses so far, and that number is expected to rise and rise over the next few days.
Reporters and residents who chose to stay have captured chilling images and videos of Irma as it assaulted Florida:
The National Weather Service expects Irma to continue on up the coast, eventually hitting major metropolitan areas like Tampa and St. Petersburg.
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face,” said Tampa's mayor, Bob Buckhorn, Sunday morning. “Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.”