Hurricane Irma brings chaos to Florida: What we know so far

A man stands firm against the wind by the Miami River as the water level surges during the passing of Hurricane Irma on Sept. 10 in Miami.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

After blazing a path of destruction through the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on Sunday, bringing chaos as it moved north through the nation’s third most populous state.

Here’s what you need to know:

Where is Irma now? How big is the storm? And where is it going?

As of Sunday evening, Irma had been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph winds, after barreling into the city of Naples on Florida’s southwest coast with winds gusting up to 130 mph.

It was actually the storm’s second landfall in Florida.

After scraping the northern coast of Cuba on Saturday, Irma turned north toward Florida overnight. The new path put the storm on a collision course with the low-lying islands of the Florida Keys, which dangle toward Cuba from the southernmost edge of the state.


After making landfall on the islands Sunday morning, causing heavy flooding and wind damage, the strongest part of the storm ripped north toward Florida’s Gulf Coast, the western edge of the state. The cities of Naples, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Clearwater and Fort Myers were in its direct path. But the storm was so big, it was also wreaking havoc in the eastern half of the state.

Although hurricanes usually weaken after making landfall, Irma was expected to remain powerful as it rakes Florida’s coast. Tallahassee, in Florida’s panhandle, could be next, followed by southwestern Georgia.

What’s the damage like so far?

More than 100 miles of coastline in southwest Florida — from the Everglades to the barrier islands, west of Fort Myers — were expected to get flooded in 10 to 15 feet of ocean water from wind-blown storm surge. That includes the city of Naples, where Florida Gov. Rick Scott expected his waterfront mansion to be inundated.

Other parts of the state, including the Keys, were expected to get 5 to 10 feet of storm surge.

Near the storm’s eye, Naples has gotten hurricane-strength gusts up to 142 mph, according to the National Weather Service. But tropical-storm-strength winds were churning as far as 220 miles away from Irma’s center.

Live updates: Hurricane Irma surging up from Florida Keys »

The heavy winds have snapped trees all across southern Florida and also seem to have broken two construction cranes in downtown Miami, leaving them dangling dangerously over the city below.

The Florida Keys, already drenched in storm surge, was expected to get 15 to 20 inches of rain by the time the storm is finished, with the rest of Florida’s peninsula potentially seeing a foot or more of precipitation.

Floridians will also have to keep an eye out for possible tornadoes spawned by the hurricane. One twister reportedly damaged several mobile homes in the city of Palm Bay.

How are people holding up?

Large portions of Florida’s coastline have been ordered evacuated in recent days. Many residents simply left the state, driving north with some of their possessions after boarding the windows of their homes.

Tens of thousands of others have filled dozens of emergency shelters — some of them schools and stadiums — to wait out the worst of the storm. More people are holed up in hotels, with many filling up their bathtubs in anticipation of losing water.

Storm surge: What happens when the sea rises up during a hurricane? »

At least 2.3 million customers have lost power, according to the Florida Power & Light Co.

A few holdouts bet they could weather the storm in boats and mobile homes, against officials’ wishes, and some have already had to be rescued.

A sheriff’s deputy and a state prison official died southeast of Tampa on Sunday morning after their vehicles collided head-on. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the crash was storm-related.

Fort Lauderdale police said they arrested nine people for looting a cash-and-pawn business in the city. But many police agencies were in the process of withdrawing officers from the streets because the storm had made it too dangerous to continue working outside.

Matt Pearce is a national reporter for The Times. Follow him on Twitter at @mattdpearce.


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