Hurricane Irma makes landfall on Florida Keys

PLANTATION, Florida — Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on Sunday and was headed for the southwest coast after raking the Lower Keys with ferocious 130 mph winds and soaking the southern part of the state with torrential rains.

The center of Irma's eye passed over Cudjoe Key at 9:10 a.m. and the storm is now heading for the cities of Naples and Fort Myers, the National Hurricane Center reported.

Up and down the state's Gulf Coast, residents braced for life-threatening storm surges of up to 15 feet in some places and 6 p.m. curfews were declared by officials in the vulnerable cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa, which have not been struck by a major hurricane since 1921.

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Impact of Hurricane Irma on Caribbean islands
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Impact of Hurricane Irma on Caribbean islands
People pick up debris as Hurricane Irma howled past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma sowed a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean on Wednesday, reducing to rubble the tropical islands of Barbuda and St Martin. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Gerben VAN ES / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - NO ARCHIVES - NO SALE- DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
Hurricane Irma, ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, churns across the Atlantic Ocean past Puerto Rico over Dominican Republic in this NASA GOES satellite image taken at 1715 EDT (2115 GMT) on September 6, 2017. Courtesy NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
Fallen trees block a street as Hurricane Irma howls past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man reacts in the winds and rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Luquillo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma sowed a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean on Wednesday, reducing to rubble the tropical islands of Barbuda and St Martin. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Gerben van Es / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - NO ARCHIVES - NO SALE- DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma sowed a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean on Wednesday, reducing to rubble the tropical islands of Barbuda and St Martin. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Gerben van Es / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - NO ARCHIVES - NO SALE- DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
Yves (L) removes items from his roof in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irma in Lauriers neighborhood of Cap-Haitien, on September 6, 2017, 240 km from Port-au-Prince. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Search and rescue crew members clears a fallen tree over a road during a search mission as hurricane Irma hits Puerto Rico in Fajardo on September 6,2017. Irma is expected to reach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by nightfall on September 6. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Search and rescue crew members clears a fallen tree during a search mission as hurricane Irma hits Puerto Rico in Fajardo on September 6, 2017. Irma is expected to reach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by nightfall on September 6. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A bulldozer cleans debris in a canal, in Cap-Haitien, on September 6, 2017, 240 km from Port-au-Prince, in preparation before the arrival of Hurricane Irma. Some people in Cap-Haitien still do not have information on the arrival of Hurricane Irma and many others do not know what to do or where to go to take shelter. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
People take shelter in a school as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Children in a low-income neighborhood carry containers for water as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
TOPSHOT - Jean looks at the sea from a house where he is working in the neighborhood of Aviation in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, on September 7, 2017. Hurricane Irma is barrelling past Haiti towards the Turks and Caicos Islands, and then the Bahamas. Irma has produced sustained winds at 295kph (183mph) for more than 33 hours, making it the longest-lasting, top-intensity cyclone ever recorded, France's weather service said Thursday. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
FAJARDO, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 06: Debris is seen during a storm surge near the Puerto Chico Harbor during the passing of Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017 in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. The category 5 storm is expected to pass over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands today, and make landfall in Florida by the weekend. (Photo by Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)
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"There is a serious threat of significant storm surge flooding along the entire west coast of Florida," Gov. Rick Scott warned at a noon news conference. "And this has increased to 15 feet of impact above ground level in southwest Florida."

Tornado warnings were in place in counties across the state Sunday as thousands of Floridians were hunkered down in homes and shelters and the howling gales rattled shuttered windows and tore trees up by their roots..

One twister touched down near Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, the National Weather Service said. The fire department there said there was no damage or injuries.

As of noon, nearly 1.5 million customers were without power in Florida and that number was expected to keep growing as Irma batters the state, according to utility companies including Florida Power & Light.


The Latest on the Storm

  • Irma restrengthened to a Category 4 storm early Sunday as it hit the lower Florida Keys with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph just after 7 a.m. ET. It made landfall on Cudjoe Key at 9:10 a.m.
  • It could reach Fort Myers by Sunday night, passing the Tampa Bay area before moving to northern Florida on Monday morning.
  • The Florida Keys and the southwest Florida coast are in the most danger of storm surges of around 10 feet.
  • The Keys could get 10 to 20 inches of rain, and the Florida peninsula could get 8 to 15 inches. Tornadoes are possible.

In Miami Beach, many streets were also submerged and there were reports of a construction crane collapse downtown.

"There are areas of south Florida and the Keys that have already had 12 inches of rain," Scott said.

In Orlando, Mayor Teresa Jacobs announced a county-wide curfew starting at 7 p.m. and said people who live in mobile homes should leave and "seek shelter immediately."

"We're continuing our door-to-door outreach, using loudspeakers through mobile home parks to make sure we reaching everyone that we can," she said.

South of Tampa, Hardee County Sheriff Arnold Lanier confirmed that one of his deputies was killed in a car crash Sunday morning; a corrections officer was also killed. The deputy, Julie Bridges, 42, who had been on the force for 13 years, had spent the night working at a shelter and was heading home when the crash occurred.

"She was a very fine deputy, and we are grateful for her service," Lanier told NBC News. "It is a tremendous loss."

State Attorney General Pat Bondi later said that Bridges' car collided with the corrections officer's vehicle. While weather conditions were likely a factor, the deaths were not immediately described as being due to Irma.

The stress from the hurricane appeared to be getting to some Floridians. After a "Shoot at Irma" event posting went up on Facebook, the sheriff in Pasco County tweeted, "DO NOT shoot weapons @ #irma."

Nearly 6.3 million people were ordered to evacuate before the storm. Not everyone heeded the calls.

Brian Cone, a boat captain in Tavernier in the Florida Keys, said he was staying in his cement-built home, which which he compared to "a bunker."

"Truthfully, the whole state of Florida is in trouble. I mean, there's really nowhere safe," Cone told MSNBC in a phone interview. He said he and his neighbors have generators, batteries, food, water and other supplies. "We feel it was more dangerous to travel all over the state, run out of fuel possibly," he said. "We're gonna ride it out."

Related: Ahead of Irma, One Naples Bar Staying Open Despite Evacuation Orders

Key West Police Chief Donald Lee told MSNBC by phone Saturday that those who stayed in defiance of evacuation orders do so at their own risk. He said the area had already seen tornado warnings, downed trees and flooding by Saturday evening.

"They're putting their lives in danger," Lee said.

In Miami-Dade County in the southeastern part of the state, police encouraged residents to stay indoors as the storm was hitting early Sunday.

"There’s a lot of trees that are being knocked over, we have live wires — it’s extremely volatile out there,” Miami-Dade Police Department Major Hector Llevat said. "Right now, we’re just urging everybody to stay indoors, to seek shelter."

Scott said Sunday his chief worry was the storm surges, which may reach as high as 15 feet in southwest Florida. "It's hard to believe anybody will survive that," he told NBC News' TODAY show.

Scott said he would not spare any resources to protect people from the storm. “We’re going to take care of everybody,” he said.

The hurricane center warned of a storm surge of 10 to 15 feet between Cape Sable and Captiva if they peak at high tide, and 5 to 10 feet in the Keys. Tampa Bay could see surges of 5 to 8 feet.

Scott said Saturday that Florida has been "aggressive" in its preparation for Irma, adding that there were more than 385 shelters open across the path of the storm.

States north of Florida prepared for Irma's arrival, with Georgia telling 540,000 residents to leave the coast and South Carolina ordering nearly 45,000 people to evacuate.

Hurricane Irma has already claimed at least 23 lives after smashing through a string of Caribbean islands this week, including Barbuda, St. Martin, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where 1 million people were left without electricity.

Kalhan Rosenblatt reported from Plantation, Florida, Saphora Smith reported from London, and Corky Siemaszko from New York City. 

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