ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Hurricane Irma set all sorts of records for brute strength before crashing into Florida, flattening islands in the Caribbean and swamping the Florida Keys.
It finally hit the mainland as a big wide beast, but not quite as monstrous as once feared. The once-Category 5 storm lost some of its power on the northern Cuba coast.
Hurricane Irma made landfall on Marco Island, Florida, as a Category 3 hurricane. Category 3 storms have winds from 111 to 129 mph.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm made landfall at 3:35 p.m.
Florida officials are urging people to stay in their homes and shelters, even if it looks like Hurricane Irma has passed.
Miami-Dade County spokesman Mike Hernandez said he’s seen reports of people leaving the county’s hurricane shelters. It’s too early for that, he says: “Just because it seems like the weather is clearing up, that doesn’t mean it’s safe to get out on the roads.
Miami Dade remains under curfew, much of it without electricity, and with downed power lines, flooding and poor visibility, moving around could be deadly.
The National Hurricane Center reports water levels are rising rapidly in Naples from Irma’s storm surge. A federal tide gauge in Naples reported a 7 foot rise of water in just 90 minutes.
A wind gust of 142 mph was recorded at the Naples Municipal Airport as the storm kept its top sustained wind speed of 110 mph.
It’s been difficult to determine the extent of damage Irma caused in the Florida Keys, where communication has been difficult and authorities are warning boaters and drivers to stay away.
But The Associated Press has been texting with John Huston, who has been riding out the storm in his house on Key Largo, on the Atlantic side of the island, just south of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
Every few minutes during the height of the storm, he sent another dispatch.
He described whiteout conditions, with howling winds that sucked dry the gulf side of the narrow island, where the tide is usually 8 feet deep. He kept his humor though, texting to “send cold beer” at one point. Now he sees furniture floating down the street with small boats.
He says the storm surge was at least 6 feet deep on his island, 76 miles from Irma’s eye. He can see now that structures survived, but the storm left a big mess at ground level.
The county administrator in the Florida Keys says crews will begin house to house searches Monday morning, looking for people who need help and assessing damage from Hurricane Irma.
Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi says relief will arrive on a C-130 military plane Monday morning at the Key West International Airport.
Once it’s light out, they’ll check on survivors. They suspect they may find fatalities.
Gastesi says they are “prepared for the worst.”
Miami International Airport has announced it will be closed Monday and begin only limited flights on Tuesday.
Orlando International Airport closed Saturday and won’t reopen to passenger traffic until after Irma has passed, a damage assessment has been completed, necessary recovery efforts made and the airlines are consulted to determine when best to resume operations.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport says on its website it has no timetable yet to reopen. Its last flights were Friday.
Tampa International Airport also is closed as Hurricane Irma moves up the Florida peninsula.
Airlines are preparing their recovery schedules, which may take several days to execute.
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