Centre of storm, which has so far claimed more than 20 lives, to make landfall in Florida Keys in early hours of Sunday
More than 7 million people evacuated from the road of Hurricane Irma on Saturday as one the most powerful storms in history lined up a potentially catastrophic strike on Florida.
Slightly weakened after hitting Cuba but still packing an enormously powerful punch, effects of the cyclone that has claimed more than 20 lives during a week-long 185 mph rampage across the Caribbean reached deep into the Sunshine State by late afternoon.
The centre of the category 4 storm was are anticipated to make landfall in the Florida Keys, the vulnerable low-lying island chain off the state’s southern coast, in the early hours of Sunday. But the outer bands of a blizzard that Florida governor Rick Scott warned was ” wider than the entire country” lashed coastal and relevant mainland authorities through the working day, sparking tornado warnings and widespread loss of power.
At an early evening briefing, Scott said:” If you’re in an area that was told to evacuate, you need to leave now. This is your last chance to make a good decision .”
He added:” Millions of Floridians will see life-threatening winds beginning tonight ,” with the” significant threat of serious cyclone upsurge along the whole west coast of Florida .”
A storm surge of 15ft would be” devastating and will cover your house”, Scott said.” Do not suppose the blizzard is over when the wind slows down. The cyclone surge will rush in and it could kill you .”
Scott recalled a storm some years ago that brought 6ft blizzard surges into Naples, on the west coast, and the breathtaking speed of the water that crashed into homes. It was hard to describe, he said,” how fast the water moved in and how fast the water moved out “.
” That was six feet ,” he said.” You just think about- how can anybody survive this stuff? I just want everybody to live .”
The projected way of Irma took it up the west coast of Florida during Sunday and in line for a direct hit on the 3 million residents of the Tampa Bay area early on Monday, still as a major hurricane with sustained gales of greater than 140 mph. A tornado watch was issued for all of southern Florida.
Radar images of Irma over Cuba’s northern coast showed that the storm’s core had been disrupted by its interaction with land, raising hopes its power could be diminished. But later data proved it regaining shape as it moved back into the warm, open waters of the Florida Straits.
” We’re concerned that as it eases away from Cuba it will strengthen again ,” said Max Mayfield, a former director of the National Hurricane Center( NHC ).” The core of the hurricane, where the really devastating gusts are going to be, is going to move right over the lower Florida Keys early tomorrow morning, and then likely another landfall somewhere on the south-west Florida coast .”
The restrengthening was confirmed by the NHC’s late-afternoon advisory, which forecast different categories 4 hurricane at landfall. The agency had earlier adjusted the projected track of Irma’s centre further west, away from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in the south east, home to more than 6 million people.
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