Hurricane Irma's northern eyewall lashes Florida Keys

ANI | Updated: Sep 10, 2017 19:23 IST

Florida [U.S.A], September 10 (ANI): Category-4 Hurricane Irma has begun its assault on Florida, the south-easternmost U.S. state, with the storm's northern eyewall reaching the lower Florida Keys on Sunday after making landfall in Cuba.

More than 560,000 residents across 19 counties in south and central Florida are without power, according to Florida Power and Light Department.

Irma lashed the area with forceful winds near 130 miles per hour and the U.S. National Hurricane Centre said it was expected to remain a powerful storm as it moved through the Florida Keys and near the state's west coast, CNN reported.

Irma, which killed at least 22 people in the Caribbean, was considered a life-threatening danger in Florida as well, and could inflict a natural disaster causing billions of dollars in damage to the third-most-populous US state.

Rescue teams from the City of Miami Beach are unable to respond to requests due to extreme sustained winds. More than 72,000 people have moved into more than 390 shelters across the state, Florida Governor Rick Scott said.

The major concern is the storm surge, which can cause devastating flooding and could reach as high as 15 feet in some areas, officials warned.

"You can't survive these storm surges," Scott said.

Keeping an eye on Irma, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has issued a mandatory evacuation for some barrier islands, while Georgia Governor Nathan Deal expanded a state of emergency to include 94 counties.

As many as 5.6 million people were evacuated from Florida on Friday to deal with the life-threatening Hurricane Irma.

"The storm is here," Governor Rick Scott said at news conference on Saturday, noting that 25,000 people had already lost power.

He said the storm surge could reach 12 feet. "This will cover your house," he said. "You will not survive all this storm surge."

Hurricane Irma has left a trail of destruction and deaths across the Caribbean and prompted large scale evacuations in American history.

Forecasters said Irma, a hurricane of remarkable size and power that already has battered islands across the Caribbean, would approach South Florida by Sunday morning and is likely to slam into its southern tip before tracking north across a heavily populated area.

The National Weather Service say that damaging winds are moving into areas including Key Biscayne, Coral Gables and South Miami.

Gusts of up to 56 mph (90 kph) were reported on Virginia Key off Miami as the storm's outer bands arrived. The Hurricane is currently moving along the coast of Cuba about 215 miles away from Miami, as it makes its way towards the U.S. peninsula.

Ships, military personnel and equipment have been deployed to respond to Hurricane Irma. So far, the Pentagon has sent six ships, an aircraft carrier, numerous aircraft and thousands of gallons of fuel to the region, as well as activated thousands of National Guard troops in Florida and Puerto Rico.

The Category 4 storm, one of the strongest hurricanes ever reported in the Atlantic, made its first landfall on the island of Barbuda as a Category 5 hurricane on Wednesday and has now lashed Florida on Sunday morning.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) activated the Florida National Guard on Tuesday in anticipation of the hurricane. About 4,000 troops were activated on Friday, and Scott said he expected the entire force of more than 8,000 would eventually be called into duty.

Puerto Rico, meanwhile, activated its 5,200 National Guard troops, while the U.S. Virgin Islands activated its nearly 700-member unit for assistance , according to the Pentagon.

United States President Donald Trump's homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said Friday he had spoken to Pentagon and State Department officials and insisted they were prepared to tackle Irma response efforts quickly.(ANI)