Florida Starts Feeling Irma's Wrath, As Hurricane Moves Past Cuba

Irma Rampaging Up Florida Coast Headed for GeorgiaNHC- NOAA

The British and U.S. Virgin Islands will likely experience tropical-storm-type weather, though they've already been hit hard this week by Hurricane Irma.

At least 25 people have been killed since Irma began its devastating march through the Caribbean as a Category Five storm of almost unmatched power, making landfall late Friday in Cuba on the Camaguey archipelago. The population has grown by more than one-third since Andrew, to 2.7 million, as high-rise condos have sprouted in downtown Miami and potato fields have been transformed into subdivisions in outlying areas like Homestead.

"We wanted to come down one last time", said Ian Urbas, who says he plans to stay put in Jacksonville and ride out the hurricane.

Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Irma weakened a bit more but remains a powerful threat to Florida with storm surges that could reach 10 feet in some places. By 10 a.m. Saturday, winds at Molasses Reef off Key Largo had already reached 39 miles per hour, he said. But the hurricane was expected to pick up strength again before hitting the Sunshine State.

At 11 a.m. Irma had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kilometers) and was centered about 175 miles (285 kilometers) southeast of Key West, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a midmorning update on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, the hurricane's outer bands blew into South Florida as residents scrambled to leave. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló tweeted that power had been restored to a major medical center and two airports, including Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport near capital city San Juan.

Rick Scott held off Friday on opening southbound lanes to northbound traffic on interstates because he needed those lanes for trucks delivering supplies, including gasoline, ahead of Hurricane Irma. The storm is expected to batter Florida for at least two days, Brennan said.

The new course threatened everything from Tampa Bay's bustling twin cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg to Naples' mansion- and yacht-lined canals, Sun City Center's retirement homes, and Sanibel Island's shell-filled beaches.

The biggest threat to human life during a hurricane is often the storm surge, which occurs when sea level rises dramatically during a storm, sending a wall of water gushing over land.

Several small, poor communities around Lake Okeechobee in the south-central part of Florida were added to the evacuation list because the lake may overflow - but the governor said engineers expect the protective dike to hold up.

The Durrs house is in Englewood, between Fort Myers and Sarasota near where the eye of Hurricane Irma is forecast to hit land.

Irma's jog to the west caught much of the Gulf Coast by surprise.

Heavy rain could worsen flooding. As much as a foot of rain could fall across the state, with isolated spots receiving 20 inches. The Florida mainland is expected to get between eight and 15 inches.

The deadly storm, the strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic, caused devastation throughout the eastern Caribbean on Wednesday and Thursday. Track forecasts earlier pointed it to the urban east coast, home to more than 6 million, triggering frantic preparations.

It could be up to six months before all power is restored on cash-strapped Puerto Rico, a USA commonwealth, where Irma knocked out power to more than one million people. Store shelves quickly emptied.