Tampa mayor: 'We're about to get punched in the face'

Frederick Owens
September 12, 2017

Television footage showed trees down and buildings with exterior damage, though people were able to make their way through muddy or lightly flooded streets.

The storm has left a trail of destruction across the eastern Caribbean, leaving at least eight people dead in total. But there are fears Fort Myers and Tampa are unprepared for the "dangerous" and "life-threatening" effects of the storm, which is expected to inundate Florida Keys with a surge of up to three metres.

With the arrival of what is potentially one of the most devastating storms to ever hit Florida, officials have set aside 3.2 million liters (0.85 million gallons) of water, filled 67 trailers with meals, and amassed 24,000 tarps.

While Irma raked the state's Gulf Coast, forecasters warned that the entire state - including the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people - was in danger because of the sheer size of the storm.

Some businesses are suspending their operations and closing early on Monday. The storm will then pick up speed as it continues north into portions of south central Georgia as a weakening category one hurricane.

But because of disrupted communications and cut-off roads, the full scale of its damage was unclear, especially in the dangerously exposed Keys, which felt Irma's full fury when the storm came shore with 130 miles per hour (209 kph) winds.

As of 10 a.m. CDT Monday, Tropical Storm Irma was located about 70 miles east of Tallahassee, Fla., and was moving north-northwest at 17 mph.

Isolated tornadoes are a threat that might linger overnight Monday.

Irma at one time was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, a Category 5 with a peak wind speed of 185 miles per hour (300 kph).

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He was killed after he lost control of a truck that carried a generator as winds whipped at tropical-storm strength, officials said.

In one of the largest US evacuations, almost 7 million people in the Southeast were warned to seek shelter, including 6.4 million in Florida alone.

He said severe weather in the western part of the state could lead to localized flooding and landslides, especially since wildfires burned through the mountains past year.

The hurricane center is forecasting that storm surge could be the most dramatic in the Miami area and in Collier, Monroe and Lee counties, all of which could see surge higher than nine feet above ground.

"We are about to get punched in the face by this storm".

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper told people to prepare even as projections had a weakened Irma entering the state well inland early next week.

"What we saw during Matthew could exponentially increase", Jones said. The National Hurricane Center said a federal tide gauge in Naples reported a 7-foot rise in water levels in just 90 minutes late Sunday.

Like many in the region, De La Cruz said she faced a hard decision as Irma made landfall on Sunday - hunker down or evacuate.

The combination of shear and instability that a hurricane offers still produces small supercell storms that are more likely to spawn tornadoes than ordinary thunderstorm cells, NOAA said.

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