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Hurricane Irma: Punishing winds, rain lash much of Florida
Hurricane Irma gave Florida a coast-to-coast pummeling with winds up to 130 mph Sunday, swamping homes and boats, knocking out power to millions and toppling massive construction cranes over the Miami skyline.
The 400-mile-wide (640-kilometer-wide) storm blew ashore in the mostly cleared-out Florida Keys, then marched up its western coast, its punishing winds extending clear across to Miami and West Palm Beach on the Atlantic side.
Irma was nearing the heavily populated Tampa-St. Petersburg area late Sunday, though in a much-weakened state. While it arrived in Florida a Category 4 hurricane, by nightfall it was down to a Category 2 with winds of 100 mph (160 kph). Meanwhile, more than 160,000 people waited in shelters statewide as Irma headed up the coast.
There were no immediate reports of deaths in Florida. In the Caribbean, at least 24 were people were killed during Irma’s destructive trek.
Bryan Koon, Florida’s emergency management director, said late Sunday that authorities had only scattered information about the storm’s toll, but he remained hopeful.
“I’ve not heard of catastrophic damage. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It means it hasn’t gotten to us yet,” Koon said.
In the low-lying Keys, where a storm surge of over 10 feet (3 meters) was recorded, appliances and furniture were seen floating away, and Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said the ocean waters were filled with navigation hazards, including sunken boats. But the full extent of Irma’s wrath there was not clear.
The county administrator, Roman Gastesi, said crews would begin house-to-house searches Monday to check on survivors. And an airborne relief mission, led by C-130 military cargo planes, was gearing up to bring emergency supplies to the Keys.
Storm surge was a big concern. The National Hurricane Center said a federal tide gauge in Naples reported a 7-foot (more than 2-meter) rise in water levels in just 90 minutes late Sunday.
Many streets were flooded in downtown Miami and other cities.
In downtown Miami, two of the two dozen construction cranes looming over the skyline collapsed in the wind. A third crane was reported down in Fort Lauderdale. No injuries were reported.
A Miami woman who went into labor was guided through delivery by phone when authorities couldn’t reach her because of high winds and street flooding. Firefighters later took her to the hospital.