MIAMI—Hurricane Irma just won’t seem to go away.
While a typical storm might come and go over the course of a night’s sleep, Irma was so large that its effects were first felt Saturday evening and had not stopped by Sunday night. A countywide curfew was imposed until 7 a.m. Monday. The hurricane knocked out power to half of Miami-Dade’s customers and 3 million more across the state.
Despite Irma’s size, Miami avoided its worst-case scenario when the record-breaking storm tracked west. Even so, high winds snapped at least two tower cranes downtown and the storm surge inundated some of the city’s most popular areas. Lincoln Road, Miami Beach’s destination outdoor pedestrian mall, was submerged in as much as 3 feet of water. Over the bridge, the Brickell waterfront financial hub and the artsy Coconut Grove neighborhood had areas with waist-high water. Miami Airport remained closed due to water damage through Monday morning, although President Trump’s social-media director tweeted out hoax images of the flooding.
In South Dade, there were reports of widespread flooding, coming from the rain rather than the saltwater storm surge.
Irma made landfall at Cudjoe Key in the middle Florida Keys at Category 4 strength—it was the most intense hurricane to hit the United States since Hurricane Katrina. And, along with Hurricane Harvey’s havoc in Texas, this is the first time in recorded history that two Cat 4s have made landfall in the U.S. in the same year.
Sustained winds of 130mph battered Cudjoe Key and the rest of the island chain. Those who stayed behind—against official advice—reported that the storm surge was almost twice as deep as that brought by Hurricane Wilma, which killed 62 people more than a decade ago. “The water didn’t get nearly this high during Wilma,” Joshua Riehl told the Florida Keys News.
Martin Senterfitt, the Monroe County emergency-management director, said the Keys are now in a humanitarian crisis, with electricity, water systems, and communications down for the entire region.
The U.S. Air Force began testing routes for its vast C-130 military transport planes, which will bring emergency supplies, food, and water to the Keys starting Monday morning. “Help is on its way,” Senterfitt said. “We’re going to get more aid than we’ve ever seen in our lives.”
While the storm continued to churn above the Keys, the eye of Irma began creeping up the western coastline and hitting vacation hotspot Marco Island. In nearby Naples, officials estimated storm surges at 15 feet.
At least three people have already died in car wrecks during storm conditions and authorities have urged people to stay inside until waters recede, power lines have been made safe and roads cleared.
North of Naples, in Tampa Bay, the storm vacuumed water south into the Gulf of Mexico. In Sarasota Bay, the water was displaced so fast that manatees were left stranded on dry beds. Residents risked their lives using tarpaulins to return two of the creatures to deeper water before the water surged back into the area. Officials warned of potentially catastrophic damage as that vast quantity of water rushes back into Tampa Bay and the surrounding areas as Irma passes through Monday.
The storm changed track again Sunday evening, taking an unexpected easterly track that could spare Tampa Bay from a direct hit but endanger Orlando.
The storm remained a Category 1 early Monday, churning up the Florida Peninsula as Georgia and South Carolina braced for impact. Officials in Atlanta have issued the first tropical-storm warning in the city’s history.