Hurricane Irma: Deadly storm knocks out power to more than 4 million customers

As Hurricane Irma neared, Jorge Medina huddled on a closet floor with his sister in Davie, just west of Fort Lauderdale.

“We were lying on the floor of the closet, taking shelter during one of the tornado alerts during the night, and we were both crying,” said Medina, a 51-year-old landscape worker from Lake Worth. “Those winds were howling like nothing else I’ve heard since Andrew. And it’s been getting worse all day.”

The deadly 400-mile-wide storm knocked out power to at least 4 million customers Sunday as it crept up the western edge of the state, spawning tornadoes, toppling cranes and flooding streets. At least three people were killed in crashes during the storm, in addition to the 24 people who were killed in the Caribbean.

Hurricane Irma made landfall at Cudjoe Key about 9:10 a.m. Sunday, passed over the water and again made landfall in Marco Island near Naples about 3:30 p.m.

As the storm started passing through Central Florida, winds were 85 mph — meaning it weakened to a Category 1 storm. As of 2 a.m., Irma was about 20 miles northwest of Lakeland and moving north-northwest at 15 mph.

There was a potential for 80-100 mph gusts in Lake County and metro Orlando, according to the National Weather Service.

John Huston of Key Largo watched small boats, furniture and refrigerators floating past his home.

“Very noisy,” he told the Associated Press by text message. “Shingles are coming off.”

How much damage the storm caused in the Keys was not immediately clear. Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt called it a humanitarian crisis, and C-130 cargo planes delivered aid and supplies.

About 10,000 people remained to ride out the storm, said Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. State crews will go down at dawn Sunday to ensure there’s a workable airport, then fly in food and water and coordinate search and rescue crews.

In the low-lying Keys, a storm surge of over 10 feet was recorded. Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said the area’s ocean waters were filled with navigation hazards, including sunken boats and loose vessels. But there was good news: Hemingway House General Manager Jacque Sands said the historic home endured little damage. The personnel are safe, as are all 54 of Hemingway’s famous polydactyl cats.

A National Ocean Service station in Key West recorded hurricane-force wind gusts of up to 90 mph, with sustained winds of 71 mph, at 9 a.m. on Sunday. FEMA chief Brock Long told responders in the Keys earlier Saturday that those who decided to stay “were on their own.”

In downtown Miami, two of the two dozen construction cranes collapsed in the wind. No injuries were reported. City officials said it would have taken about two weeks to move the massive equipment.

Fort Lauderdale police arrested nine people they said were caught on TV cameras looting sneakers and other items from a sporting goods store and a pawn shop during the hurricane.

“This is a life-threatening situation,” Gov. Rick Scott said. “Remember, in Southwest Florida the storm surge comes after the strongest winds. Do not think the storm is over when the wind slows down. Local officials will let you know when it is safe to go out. The storm surge will rush in and could kill you.”

President Donald Trump granted Scott’s request for a major disaster declaration, which will streamline funding and reimbursements for repairing storm damages.

Meteorologists predict the storm will plow into the Tampa Bay area by early Monday morning. The storm shifted late Saturday night, and part of Central Florida was predicted to receive hurricane-force winds.

A sheriff’s deputy and a corrections officer in South Florida were killed in a head-on collision early Sunday morning, according to Kerri Wyland, a spokeswoman for Scott. A single-car wreck in Orange county killed one person, just as the county’s 7 p.m. Sunday to 6 p.m. Monday curfew was taking effect.

In the Tampa Bay area, access to all of Pinellas County's barrier islands, including the popular spring-break destination of Clearwater Beach, was shut off.

Tampa Bay has not been struck by a major hurricane since 1921, when its population was about 10,000, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. Now the area has about 3 million people.

The National Hurricane Center said the storm would bring “life-threatening wind impacts to much of Florida regardless of the exact track of the center.”

More than 75,000 people flocked to shelters by Saturday to escape Hurricane Irma's potentially deadly winds and storm surge, as more than 6.5 million residents were in an evacuation zone.

The state said Saturday that more than 530 shelters are open, mostly in schools, churches and community centers.

Scott activated all 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard, and 30,000 guardsmen from elsewhere were on standby.

The estimated economic cost of Irma will be about $100 billion, according to Joel N. Myers, founder, president and chairman of AccuWeather — with the impact of Hurricane Harvey being $190 billion.

Staff writers David Fleshler, Gray Rohrer, Bianca Padró Ocasio, Marco Santana and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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