Hurricane Irma: millions brace for impact as superstorm reaches Florida

Kelly Mc Clenthen returns to see the flood damage to her Bonita Springs home with her boyfriend Daniel Harrison

Tracking models showed Irma will make landfall on the Keys and head along Florida's west coast, bringing 120 miles per hour wind gusts to the state that is a major tourism hub, with an economy that comprises about 5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

Irma was a Category 5 storm, the highest ranking possible, when it crashed into Cuba on Saturday morning. The worst winds of the eyewall, caught in satellite loops, passed roughly between Big Pine, home to the National Key Deer Refuge, and Key West, some 30 miles to the west. Power and electricity was cut off due to copious rainfall in nearly all parts of the state. So far there have been no reports of deaths in Cuba. Meyers, Naples, and Tampa to unprecedented storm damage.

There was widespread damage reported on both island chains, with five dead in the British Virgin Islands and four killed in the US Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic seem to largely have been spared.

"A severe storm with the right track orientation will cause an enormous buildup of water that will become trapped in the bay and inundate large areas of Tampa and St. Petersburg", a 2015 KCC study said.

At 4 a.m. there was a storm surge of two feet in Key West, and 84 miles per hour wind gusts there.

Irma began its rampage far to the east of Cuba on Wednesday, tearing into the small two-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda in the northern Leeward Islands.

Many of their animals were moved into pens created to hold up even if nearby buildings were lost in storms or tornadoes.

The resort island with a population of less than 2,000 is devastated.

Tens of thousands of people huddling in shelters watched for updates as the storm swung to the west, now potentially sparing Tampa as well Miami the catastrophic head-on blow forecasters had been warning about for days. Some social media posts already showed knee-deep water in portions of Old Town and forecasters said seven to 10 feet above ground level was a possibility in some areas. "This is no average hurricane". France's government is sending hundreds more soldiers and police to restore order to the Caribbean island of St. Martin amid looting and chaos after Hurricane Irma.

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A state of emergency and a curfew is in place in Miami Beach. The state of emergency makes it easier for security forces to more easily arrest suspected looters.

FEMA's top official warned that people who chose to defy evacuation orders would be left to their own devices, with no immediate help.

Tens of thousands of Floridians were hunkering down in shelters for a direct hit from the monster storm, after more than 6.3 million - almost a third of the state's population - were ordered to evacuate. Two other people, including a sheriff's deputy, died in a auto crash in the rain in Hardee County. It weakened to a tropical depression shortly after.

It will then continue up the coast making a second landfall between Fort Myers and Sarasota later in the day, said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

"Sometimes people listen and sometimes they don't", Long said. Havana's downtown has become a major tourist draw in recent years, but decades of neglect have left many its buildings prone to collapse after even normal seasonal rains.

"It was powerful, water rose to about one meter high", said Risle Echemendia, 28, in Caibarien as he swept muddy water out of his front door.

Sharon Flax-Brutus, director of tourism for the British Virgin Islands (BVI), said the damage was hard to assess because communications were down, but that "many homes are without roofs, or have been diminished to merely foundations".

Still, Cubans pride themselves on being prepared for disasters.

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