Irma slammed into southwest Florida on Sunday, threatening to bring dangerous storm surges to coastal areas already battered by the hurricane’s powerful winds.
Now a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, Hurricane Irma is about 5 miles north of Naples, Florida, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory at 5 p.m. ET.
Irma is already uprooting trees and turning streets into rivers.
Forecasters warn water levels are rapidly rising in Naples as the storm churns north.
And, there’s plenty more to come as Irma climbs the coast toward Fort Myers and Tampa.
“We’re all hanging in there, ready to get out there to help others as soon as it’s safe to do so,” said Marco Island Police Chief Al Schettino, as the storm hit his city on Sunday afternoon.
Even areas that aren’t facing a direct hit from Irma are seeing flooding and downed power lines.
“We’re getting slammed right now,” said Josh Levy, the mayor of Hollywood, Florida, on Sunday afternoon.
Expected to be even more dangerous than the powerful winds are the storm surges that threaten Florida’s coastal cities.
“The threat of catastrophic storm surge flooding is highest along the southwest coast of Florida, where 10 to 15 feet of inundation above ground level is expected,” the hurricane center said. “This is a life-threatening situation.”
Still, not everyone heeded orders to evacuate coastal Florida.
Wayne Ploghoft is hunkered down on the third floor of a building on Marco Island – where catastrophic storm surges are imminent.
Ploghoft said he wasn’t able to evacuate because his flight plans didn’t work out. Now, Ploghoft and three others are holed up with stockpiles of water, canned food and battery power.
“We’re all going to be okay,” Ploghoft said.
But, Gov. Rick Scott said Irma’s wrath is unprecedented.
“We have never had anything like this before,” he told CNN Sunday.
In Florida and southern Georgia, more than 8 million people face hurricane-force winds topping 74 mph, said Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Analytics.
And, almost the entire state of Florida is under a hurricane warning, affecting at least 36 million people.
Miami succumbs to Irma’s wrath
Gusts topping 90 mph whipped Miami on Sunday, knocking out power to more than 680,000 customers in the Miami-Dade area.
Flying objects such as coconuts turned into dangerous projectiles. And, at least one construction crane snapped, swinging vigorously over downtown Miami.
Matthew Spuler captured video of waves crashing over a seawall toward his high-rise building in downtown Miami.
“There is no seawall whatsoever,” Spuler said. “It’s amazing. It’s under water.”
The latest developments:
- Water levels are rapidly rising in Naples, Florida, the National Hurricane Center said Sunday evening. A tide gauge in Naples has measured a water level of 2.2 feet above mean higher high water, a 7 foot increase over the past hour and a half, the center said in an advisory at 6 p.m. ET.
- More than 2 million electric customers are without power across Florida, according to utility companies.
- A storm surge warning wraps around the state, from Brevard County to Tampa Bay.
- Miami-Dade County announced a curfew between 7 p.m. Sunday and 7 a.m. Monday.
- Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has expanded a state of emergency to include all 159 Georgia counties, Deal’s office said. The decision was made in advance of heavy rains, strong winds and potential flooding from Hurricane Irma. The state government will be closed Monday and Tuesday except for essential personnel.
- At least 24 deaths have been blamed on Irma in the Caribbean islands, where it hit before barreling toward Florida.
“You can’t survive these storm surges”
The governor warned some storm surges could be deadly.
“You can’t survive these storm surges,” the governor said.
Those who did not evacuate ahead of the storm are in danger, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said Saturday.
“You’re on your own until we can actually get in there and it’s safe,” he told CNN.
But, Key West business owner Jason Jonas said he stayed behind because he’s in a home that is “built like a bunker.”
“It’s pretty much the only reason I considered staying here because I knew that I had a pretty good chance of making it through this thing,” he said. “We’re 30 plus feet above sea level and in a place that’s built to withstand 225 mph winds. I mean that’s a better chance than being exposed out on the highway in traffic trying to make it to Georgia.”
Irma hit Cuba’s Ciego de Avila province late Friday as a Category 5 hurricane before it weakened and headed to the US.
This is the the first year on record the continental US has had two Category 4 hurricane landfalls in the same year.
Last month, Hurricane Harvey devastated much of coastal Texas and killed more than 70 people.
Other cities will get pummeled
Several Florida cities are in or near the forecast path of the storm’s eye.
The storm will be devastating for central Florida, Tampa, Fort Myers, Naples and Key West, said CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.
In Fort Myers, where storm surge warnings are in effect, Evanson Ngai stayed up all night, tracking the hurricane.
“I’ve tried to get some sleep, but I can’t. Just the nervousness, trying to keep an eye on it to see if its track will change,” he said.
Ngai plans to crouch in the bathtub when it makes landfall.
“Right now, it’s a little bit of gusty winds and some rain,” he said early Sunday. “We’ve moved everything away from windows. We’re hoping for the best. We’ve bought nonperishable foods and water, and we have a flashlight.”
Florida Power and Light estimated 3.4 million of its customers could be without power at some point during Irma, the company’s largest number of outages ever.
“We think this could be the most challenging restoration in the history of the US,” said company spokesman Chris McGrath.
Other states may be affected
As Irma moves inland, more than 45 million people will face tropical storm conditions – meaning winds will top 39 mph, Maue said. Those states include Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued a mandatory evacuation for some barrier islands.
The National Weather Service in Atlanta issued a tropical storm watch for the area Monday and Tuesday. Schools in the state planned to close Monday.