Update at 7:20 a.m.: Irma weakened to a Category 1 hurricane overnight as its eye wall passed east of Tampa and swept north toward the panhandle.
Update at 1 a.m.: Hurricane Irma was getting close to the populated Tampa-St. Petersburg area late on Sunday after devastating large portions of the Gulf Coast. The storm that arrived in Florida as a Category 4 hurricane, slowed down sharply to a Category 2 by Sunday night.
There were no immediate reports of deaths in Florida due to Irma. "I've not heard of catastrophic damage. It doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It means it hasn't gotten to us yet," Bryan Koon, Florida's emergency management director, said late Sunday. The storm appears to have devastated parts of the Middle and Upper Keys and Monroe Cunty officials hinted there could be fatalities.
More than 3.3 million Floridians lost power throughout the day as the massive storm struck the region. The storm is expected to keep weakening overnight before becoming a tropical storm somewhere between northern Florida and southern Georgia on Monday.
Update at 6:30 p.m.: Hurricane Irma lost its major-hurricane status on Sunday afternoon as it weakened to a Category 2 storm following its second landfall in the United States. By midafternoon, Irma struck Marco Island, just south of Naples, as a Category 3 hurricane. Forecasters warned that Irma remained extremely dangerous even as it slowed, but some expressed optimism that the Tampa–St. Petersburg region would be able to avoid the worst-case scenario. A new forecast states Irma could be a Category 1 storm by the time it gets to the heavily populated region.
The storm is over land but is close to the coast as it moves north. The hurricane is expected to continue going alongside Florida’s west coast through Monday morning before heading farther inland. Forecasters say it could reach the Tampa–St. Petersburg area early Monday morning.
Some good news: Irma's landfall south of Naples means it will now weaken more quickly. Tampa Bay has likely avoided its worst-case scenario. https://t.co/PBnYm7H28g— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) September 10, 2017
President Donald Trump said the United States may have gotten “a little bit lucky” when Irma veered off its expected course at the last minute. “The bad news is that this is some big monster,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
Original post at 10:36 a.m.: Hurricane Irma made landfall early Sunday morning at Cudjoe Key in the Florida Keys as a huge Category 4 storm. One of the most powerful storms ever recorded packed winds of 130 mph amid warnings of potential deadly storm surges as high as 15 feet. It marks Florida’s first major hurricane landfall since Wilma in 2005, and following Harvey, it’s the first time in U.S. history that two consecutive Category 4 hurricanes hit the United States.
More than 1 million customers were without power in Florida shortly after Hurricane Irma hit the state as the most powerful storm to strike the Keys in more than 50 years. Irma is likely to pick up speed before it moves up the state’s Gulf Coast and is now expected to hit the Tampa–St. Petersburg region directly. But the storm is so huge that the whole state will be feeling its effects over the coming days.
At least three people have died as a result of the storm so far. One man in Monroe County died when he lost control of a truck, and two other people died in a car crash in Hardee County.
Irma is moving slowly at approximately 8 mph and is now likely to hit the Tampa region at around 2 a.m. Monday. More than 100,000 people are hunkered down in shelters in Florida amid evacuation orders that directly affected some 6.8 million peple in Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia.
“The first thing I ask everybody to do is pray for us,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said on ABC News. “I know a lot of people around the world want to help. The biggest thing you can do now is pray.”