Several days after rampaging through the Leeward Islands, skirting Puerto Rico, and slicing through part of Cuba, Hurricane Irma tore into the Florida Keys early Sunday. The eye of the storm made its official landfall at Cudjoe Key (about halfway between Marathon and Key West) at 9:10 in the morning. After weakening slightly during its Cuban sojourn, Irma quickly regained strength once it was back over warm ocean waters and was packing maximum sustained winds of 130 miles-per-hour when it slammed into the Florida Keys. It was the strongest storm to hit the Keys in more than half a century.
Hurricane Irma is a physically large storm. It made landfall well out in the Florida Keys and yet there have been 100 mile-per-hour wind gusts as far away as Miami. By early Sunday morning, over 1 million South Florida homes were without power, about half of them in the Miami area. The fact that 7 million Floridians (nearly a third of the state’s population) have evacuated is another sign of just how big Irma is. Nearly the entire state is under a hurricane warning.
Hurricane Irma is now expected to roar up Florida’s Gulf coast, reaching Fort Myers by Sunday evening and then hitting the heavily populated Tampa Bay area before reaching northern Florida by Monday morning.
Irma’s powerful winds are the storm’s most obvious threat, but water is going to be a major source of trouble. Torrential rains of 10 to 15 inches will cause serious flooding well inland. Irma will also bring a dangerous storm surge to Florida’s Gulf Coast. A particularly large surge of 10 to 15 feet is expected around Naples and Cape Coral while Tampa Bay could experience a 5 to 8-foot surge. It’s feared that all this wind and water will inflict catastrophic damage in many locations.
Meanwhile, in the Florida Keys, a local journalist simply reports that “Everything is underwater, I mean everything.” Emergency services in the Keys won’t be able to swing into action until at least Monday.