More than 100 people were evacuated from a Florida nursing home Wednesday after six people were reported dead at the Hollywood facility, whose residents were suffering from intense heat caused by a lack of electricity after deadly Hurricane Irma swept through.
Irma may have moved on from Florida, but lingering dangers caused by the storm, including carbon monoxide poisoning and heat-related incidents caused by a lack of air conditioning, remain in the Sunshine State, as millions wait for power to be restored.
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Officials in Hollywood said at least six people died and 115 people were evacuated from Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, located about 20 miles north of Miami.
“We’re conducting a criminal investigation inside,” Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said. “We believe at this time they may be related to the loss of power in the storm. We’re conducting a criminal investigation, not ruling anything out at this time.”
Sanchez said investigators believe the deaths were heat-related, adding it was a “sad event.”
Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief confirmed three people were pronounced dead at the facility. City officials said three additional people later died at the hospital.
The Hollywood Police and Hollywood Fire Rescue received a call around 4 a.m. at the facility, and found “several patients in varying degrees of medical distress,” city officials said.
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A member of the Arizona Task Force 1 search and rescue team knocks on doors while checking on homes and their owners after Hurricane Irma in Goodland, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Sanchez said officers have been assigned to check 42 assisted living facilities and nursing homes in Hollywood to “make sure they are in sufficient care of the elderly.”
The nursing home did have a generator, but it is unclear if the generator was functional, WSVN reported.
Temperatures in Hollywood were expected to be around 86degrees on Wednesday — but feel about 10 degrees warmer.
A caseworker named Ed, who declined to give his last name, came to the facility Wednesday morning to check on his 80-year-old dementia patient. He told Fox News he isn’t sure yet if she’s one of the dead.
“I’m very concerned. I’m like a family member to her,” he said.
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A member of the Arizona Task Force 1 search and rescue team walks by debris from a home as they knock on doors while checking on homes and their owners after Hurricane Irma in Goodland, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Meanwhile, in Central Florida, three people were found dead inside an Orlando home Tuesday from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning, officials said.
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Rob Brehm cleans up debris from his home as a demolished house sits across the street after Hurricane Irma in Goodland, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Orange County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jeff Williams told The Associated Press a deputy responded to the the home following a 911 call from what sounded like a juvenile. The deputy was overcome by fumes while approaching the home and called for fire rescue.
Firefighters discovered two people dead inside the house, FOX35 Orlando reported. Another person, who tried to get out of the home, was found dead on the front lawn, while four others from inside the home were taken to a nearby hospital. Rescue workers found a portable gasoline generator running inside the home.
Further north in Daytona Beach, police said one person died and three others were being treated at a hospital Wednesday for carbon monoxide poisoning from an electric generator.
The Daytona Beach Fire Department said on Twitter a generator had been running inside the home.
A neighbor told FOX35 Orlando generators were not allowed in the community, and officials across Florida are warning people to keep generators outside homes.
Carbon monoxide from a generator is also suspected in the death of a man in Miami, while authorities say another dozen people were treated for carbon monoxide-related illnesses on Tuesday in Polk and Brevard counties.
One Miami-area apartment building was evacuated Tuesday after authorities determined a lack of power made it unsafe for elderly tenants, while officers arrived at another retirement community to help people stranded on upper floors who didn’t have access to working elevators.
Elsewhere, a South Florida townhouse that weathered the storm was gutted by fire when power was restored, which caused the stove to ignite items left on the cooktop.
The number of deaths blamed on Irma in Florida climbed to 13 with the carbon monoxide deaths, in addition to four in South Carolina and two in Georgia. At least 37 people were killed in the Caribbean.
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Cherie Ethier sits in her mobile home with her pets surrounded by floodwater, in the Marco Naples RV Resort in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, in Naples, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but everybody’s going to come together,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. “We’re going to get this state rebuilt.”
The number of people without electricity in the steamy late-summer heat dropped to 9.5 million — just under half of Florida’s population. Utility officials warned it could take 10 days or more for power to be fully restored. About 110,000 people remained in shelters across the state.
Many of the areas devastated by Hurricane Irma have large immigrant populations. For those living in the United States without permission, seeking refuge at official shelters could have serious consequences.
Sister Ann Kendrick moved to Florida 46 years ago to offer support to the immigrant farm worker community. She has since co-founded the Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka, Orange County, where she continues to work with the now mostly Latino local community – many of whom arrived in the United States illegally. She spoke to DW about how Hurricane Irma’s arrival in Florida proved to be extra challenging for these “undocumented” immigrants.
DW: How badly has your area been affected by Hurricane Irma?
Sister Ann Kendrick: Badly. There are a lot of trees in central Florida, and that’s the danger. They go over on houses and they go over on electrical lines, and on mobile homes – especially the older ones that weren’t built with adequate reinforcements. There was a mandatory evacuation of all the mobile homes in Orange County. We dodged a bullet though. It was terrible, but it wasn’t as bad as expected in some ways.
How has the local community that you work with reacted?
In the immigrant community people are just hard workers. The howling of the wind yesterday gave way to another sound, which was the chainsaws. A lot of these people are landscapers, yard guys, the people who go in to fix up your manicured garden – and they have equipment. So they were out helping people. Almost before the last cloud and raindrop and gust of wind were gone, people were working to rebuild, to repair. It’s beautiful, the resiliency!
Stunned by the destruction wrought by Hurricane Irma
Last week, the Sheriff of neighboring Polk County suggested that people would have to provide identification at hurricane shelters – apparently to prevent “sex offenders and predators” entering. Was this also alarming for undocumented residents who were preparing to evacuate their homes?
It’s not unexpected. This is a pretty racist place. People aren’t dancing around in their cone-hat outfits, but the attitudes haven’t changed that much. All these people do is they cloak whatever restrictive law they want to have with “it’s a security issue” – that gives you cover to exclude and threaten people.
A lot of our staff went around telling people go to the shelter. I was there most of the day, because I’m pretty well known in the immigrant community, to say “you can trust these people”. They just asked your name, you didn’t have to show any ID.
Sister Ann Kendrick founded the Office for Farmworker Ministry with three other Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
Were people worried that they might be asked for identification?
People were worried just because first responders were also visible around these places, there were police cars. This is a crowd that lives with fear every second. They’re afraid just getting in a car, because it means they’re driving without a license. Since 9/11 [when the federal government introduced heightened security measures for state-issued identification cards] they can’t renew their license.
Everything is a threat. They get in the car and the driver looks ahead and the kids sit in the back and look out of the back window to alert them in case they are being followed by police. They’re targeted. The police department says that there’s never any racial profiling, and I wouldn’t say all officers do it, but yeah there’s a few in our town who I’m sure trawl for Mexican-looking people, Latino-looking people.
So do you think some people in your area avoided seeking refuge from the hurricane at an official shelter because they were worried about the legal consequences?
I think people’s first preference was if they had family members or friends who had a more stable house, they went there. One of our staff members had 15 people in her house – plus four dogs and five doves in cages! They weren’t sure how it would be in the shelter, if they would be with people they could talk to, if people would be accepting. So they were afraid, but they were together. They shared their immigrant stories and their stories of living in this country. They ate. And they were a community.
But that happened also in the shelter. People bonded with each other, they knew each other’s story. I mean, they had 48 hours in there. Our shelter was full by 5 or 6 pm the night before and the whole next day. And the shelter didn’t have beds or cots – it was just the gym floor. You had to bring everything, either a blow-up mattress or a quilt, or you just slept right on the floor. We got them three meals a day, but there were no bathing facilities. The night the storm hit, the generator kept the lights on but it didn’t keep the air conditioning going, so it got very hot, because it was in a gym with no ventilation.
HURRICANE IRMA RIPS THROUGH CARIBBEAN AND US SOUTHEASTERN STATES
Strongest-ever Atlantic storm
Hurricane Irma has killed dozens of people and injured many more since the record-breaking storm roared over the French Caribbean islands. With its powerful winds having topped 185 miles (295 kilometers) per hour, Irma is the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, according to the US National Hurricane Center based in Miami.
Aside from seeking safety at shelters, do you think these people will also be less likely to seek other forms of help, such as potential medical aid or disaster relief funding?
I think they will not be inclined to apply for any disaster relief funding. But a lot of the families that I know, they’re all out today working in people’s yards, trying to make some money now.
You’ve been in the area for nearly 50 years. What does the immigrant community look like?
Back in 1971, before Disney World became the premier place in central Florida, before it was in the shadow of Cinderella’s castle, we worked with migrant farm workers – the people who came into the state to pick the oranges. We reached out to the migrant labor force, which back then was about 60 or 70 percent African American, but increasingly became more Latino. These same communities are now mostly doing other work. They’re working in the low-end of the construction industry, a lot of people work in horticulture or the tourist industry – hotels, motels, cleaning people’s houses. There’s just a lot of employment. It’s not necessarily high-end or well-paid, but there are job opportunities.
What sort of proportion of this community is undocumented?
It’s difficult to say, but it’s a lot. Since the election last November, they’re terrified – people who have been here a long time and lived under the radar.
The repeal of DACA prompted a spate of protests in the US
Last week the Trump administration announced that the DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] program, which granted temporary protection to certain groups of immigrants who arrived in the US as minors, will be rescinded. How will this affect the families that you know?
The removal of DACA has been a terrible blow. Those kids are the only ones in many households who can legally work and who can get a driver’s license. And so they have been able to get better jobs, because they can now work in places that give a bit more scrutiny to people’s identification and the documents that they need in order to legally work in this country. And they can drive – so they’re driving everyone. They’re sort of the adults in the family.
But this crowd is resilient. They’ve been through a lot. These people still believe in community – and knowing each other and helping each other. It’s the same thing about the issue with papers: the people with documents are suffering together with the people that don’t have them. It’s a beautiful empathy and solidarity.
Hurricane Irma smashes into mainland Florida
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Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday the Florida Keys bridges appeared to escape serious damage from Irma, but more time is needed to finish inspections.
Gov. Rick Scott said officials continue to check the 42 Overseas Highway bridges that link the Florida Keys together. He said none appear seriously damaged but that “we’re not sure that on the bridges we should be putting on significant weight.”
Key West City Commissioner Sam Kaufman said late Monday two sections of U.S. 1 washed away from Irma will be repaired by the end of the week. The National Guard is expected to arrive in Key West to distribute water and food, which are at “critically low supplies,” according to Kaufman.
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A home damaged by a tree is seen after Hurricane Irma made landfall in Tampa. (Reuters)
Hungry residents across the state are also looking for whatever restaurants and stores still have power to stock up on supplies, and whose food hasn’t spoiled due to a lack of refrigeration.
Miami Beach residents were allowed to return their homes Tuesday to assess damage done by Irma, sparking heavy traffic by 7 a.m. at police blocks.
Among them were Lyle and Lydia Calhoun. The couple, originally from South Carolina, has a condo in the Biscayne Bay area and were eager to return home.
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Neighbors help each other clear their road of debris in Kissimmee. (AP)
“We’ve been waiting for an hour,” Lydia told Fox News. “We’re tired, we’re dirty and we want to go home.”
A handful of businesses, including several Walgreens and 7-Elevens, had reopened with more stores expected to join throughout the day.
“Miami Beach will be up and running soon,” resident Scott Looker, who had taken his dog “Diggie Smalls” for a walk near the Port of Miami, told Fox News. “We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.”
Lack of widespread working air conditioning comes at an inopportune time, as temperatures sit in the mid-80s and feel nearly 10 degrees warmer.
In Key West, Kaufman said the city is also desperately low on fuel, and is working with the military for emergency supplies.
Key West resident Laura Keeney was waiting in a Miami hotel until it was safe to return home, and she was anxious to hear more about her apartment complex. Her building manager told her there was flooding there, but further updates were hard to come by because power and cell phone service have been down on the island.
“They told me there is definitely water in the downstairs apartment, which is me,” Keeney told the Associated Press.
As sweltering tropical heat returned across the peninsula as Irma moved northward, people in the Tampa Bay area fired up generators or headed outdoors to sit outside to pass the time awaiting for their lights to come back on.
“It’s a luxury right? It’s a luxury. Big luxury,” Jennifer Blaskvitch told FOX 13 Tampa. “I know we pay for it but when it goes out, you expect it to be back quick. But, I understand the circumstances. It could have been a lot worse. So, you just have to be patient.”
Florida Power and Light said its working to restore power as quickly as possible, staging hundreds of trucks and crews from across the country at South Florida sites, WSVN reported.
“Even though we are restoring power, people need to be prepared for some prolonged and extended outages,” FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy said. “There are pockets of some real destruction.”’
The power company said Tuesday the East Coast of the state is estimated to have power restored by the end of weekend except in areas hit by tornados, flooding, and severe damage.
On the state’s West Coast, Florida Power said power is estimated to be restored by Sept. 22, except in areas hit by tornadoes, flooding, and severe damage.
The remnants of Irma were blowing through Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday after drenching Georgia.
Six deaths in Florida have been blamed on Irma, along with three in Georgia and one in South Carolina. At least 35 people were killed in the Caribbean.
Around the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, where Irma rolled through early Monday, damage appeared modest, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott said effects on the southwest coast, including in Naples and Fort Myers, was not as bad as feared.
Still, Scott predicted that recovery could take a long time in many areas.
“I know for our entire state, especially the Keys, it’s going to be a long road,” he said.
Fox News’ Barnini Chakraborty and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Glass panels fell from a high-rise building in Miami on Sunday after Hurricane Irma pushed its way through the city. (Fox News)
Glass panels plunged from a high-rise building in Miami on Sunday, a clear sign of looming dangers after the brunt of Hurricane Irma slammed into South Florida.
At 85 stories tall, the building, called the Panorama Tower, is planned to be the city’s tallest building. Video showed six-foot glass panels falling from the side of the building, expected to be 843 feet tall, and crashing to the ground below.
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The building’s construction was expected to be completed by the end of this year, according to the Miami New Times — but that was before Hurricane Irma struck Florida.
The building’s falling glass panels were far from the only destruction Irma left inside the city.
The City of Miami joked on Twitter that it “Looks like #Irma made it snow in #Miami,” with a photo of white material covering the street. The tweet concludes: “Actually it’s insulation from a high rise under construction.”
(MIAMI) — Hurricane Irma gave Florida a coast-to-coast pummeling with winds up to 130 mph Sunday, swamping homes and boats, knocking out power to millions and toppling massive construction cranes over the Miami skyline.
The 400-mile-wide (640-kilometer-wide) storm blew ashore in the mostly cleared-out Florida Keys, then marched up its western coast, its punishing winds extending clear across to Miami and West Palm Beach on the Atlantic side.
Irma was nearing the heavily populated Tampa-St. Petersburg area late Sunday, though in a much-weakened state. While it arrived in Florida a Category 4 hurricane, by nightfall it was down to a Category 2 with winds of 100 mph (160 kph). Meanwhile, more than 160,000 people waited in shelters statewide as Irma headed up the coast.
There were no immediate reports of deaths in Florida. In the Caribbean, at least 24 were people were killed during Irma’s destructive trek.
Bryan Koon, Florida’s emergency management director, said late Sunday that authorities had only scattered information about the storm’s toll, but he remained hopeful.
“I’ve not heard of catastrophic damage. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It means it hasn’t gotten to us yet,” Koon said.
In the low-lying Keys, where a storm surge of over 10 feet (3 meters) was recorded, appliances and furniture were seen floating away, and Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said the ocean waters were filled with navigation hazards, including sunken boats. But the full extent of Irma’s wrath there was not clear.
The county administrator, Roman Gastesi, said crews would begin house-to-house searches Monday to check on survivors. And an airborne relief mission, led by C-130 military cargo planes, was gearing up to bring emergency supplies to the Keys.
Storm surge was a big concern. The National Hurricane Center said a federal tide gauge in Naples reported a 7-foot (more than 2-meter) rise in water levels in just 90 minutes late Sunday.
Many streets were flooded in downtown Miami and other cities.
In downtown Miami, two of the two dozen construction cranes looming over the skyline collapsed in the wind. A third crane was reported down in Fort Lauderdale. No injuries were reported.
A Miami woman who went into labor was guided through delivery by phone when authorities couldn’t reach her because of high winds and street flooding. Firefighters later took her to the hospital.
An apparent tornado spun off by Irma destroyed six mobile homes in Palm Bay, midway up the Atlantic coast. Flooding was reported along Interstate 4, which cuts across Florida’s midsection.
Curfews were imposed in Miami, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and much of the rest of South Florida, and some arrests of violators were reported. Miami Beach barred outsiders from the island.
Fort Lauderdale police arrested nine people they said were caught on TV cameras looting sneakers and other items from a sporting goods store and a pawn shop during the hurricane.
More than 3.3 million homes and businesses across the state lost power, and utility officials said it will take weeks to restore electricity to everyone.
While Irma raked Florida’s Gulf Coast, forecasters warned that the entire state was in danger because of the sheer size of the storm.
In one of the largest U.S. evacuations, nearly 7 million people in the Southeast were warned to seek shelter elsewhere, including 6.4 million in Florida alone.
About 30,000 people heeded orders to leave the Keys as the storm closed in, but an untold number refused, in part because, to many storm-hardened residents, staying behind in the face of danger is a point of pride.
John Huston, who stayed in his Key Largo home, watched his yard flood even before the arrival of high tide.
“Small boats floating down the street next to furniture and refrigerators. Very noisy,” he said by text message. “Shingles are coming off.”
Irma made landfall just after 9 a.m. at Cudjoe Key, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) outside Key West. During the afternoon, it rounded Florida’s southwestern corner and hugged the coast closely as it pushed toward Naples, Sanibel, Fort Myers and, beyond that, Sarasota, at 14 mph (23 kph).
Forecasters warned some places could see a storm surge of up to 15 feet (5 meters) of water.
Gretchen Blee, who moved with her husband to Naples from Long Island, New York, after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 heavily damaged their beach home, took cover in a hotel room as Irma raged.
“I said, ‘Let’s go and live the good life in paradise’,” she said. “And here we are.”
Some 400 miles (640 kilometers) north of the Keys, people in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area started bracing for the onslaught. The Tampa Bay area, with a population of about 3 million, has not taken a direct hit from a major hurricane since 1921.
“I’ve been here with other storms, other hurricanes. But this one scares me,” Sally Carlson said as she snapped photos of the waves crashing against boats in St. Petersburg. “Let’s just say a prayer we hope we make it through.”
Along the Gulf Coast, two manatees became stranded after Hurricane Irma sucked the water out of Sarasota Bay, in Florida’s Manatee County. Several people posted photos of the mammals on Facebook amid reports rescuers were able to later drag them to deeper water.
After leaving Florida, a weakened Irma is expected to push into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and beyond. A tropical storm warning was issued for the first time ever in Atlanta, some 200 miles (320 kilometers) from the sea.
President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration for Florida, opening the way for federal aid.
“Once this system passes through, it’s going to be a race to save lives and sustain lives,” Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Florida’s governor activated all 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard, and 10,000 guardsmen from elsewhere were being deployed.
Irma at one time was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, a Category 5 with a peak wind speed of 185 mph (300 kph), and its approach set off alarm in Florida.
For days, forecasters had warned Irma was taking dead aim at the Miami area and the rest of the state’s Atlantic coast. But then Irma made a more pronounced westward shift — the result of what meteorologists said was an atmospheric tug-of-war between weather systems that nudged Irma’s crucial right turn into Florida’s Gulf Coast.
ORLANDO, Fla. — Bracing for hurricanes is almost a summer tradition here: the steady, clanking sound of wood banged to windows, the endless lines for bottled water and fuel, the pilgrimages to fortified shelters.
But Irma, which struck Florida’s coastline twice and then tore through the state with a fury, is anything but a run-of-the-mill hurricane. It was wider than the peninsula itself. There was hardly anywhere in the state to escape its blustery wrath.
Certainly not in the tiny islands of the Keys, which found themselves nearly under water on Sunday after Irma zeroed in on Cudjoe Key, Fla., just after 9 a.m.
Not in the shimmering high-rises of Miami, where hurricane winds partially knocked down two construction cranes. Not in and around the tourist havens of Orlando and Tampa, where theme parks were shuttered.
Even the most northern pockets in Tallahassee, the capital, and the small towns along the Florida-Georgia line, were cowering with the rest of the state for a thorough pummeling from tropical-force winds.
To try to escape Irma, Floridians scattered across the state on clogged interstates. They slept on cots inside high schools, on narrow beds in roadside motels, on friends’ couches and wherever they could reach on a tank of gas. The question for everyone was whether to go, and then where to go, to best outlast the winds.
Irma’s ruinous march was, for a while, aimed directly at South Florida, prompting much of the population, with memories of Hurricane Andrew and fresh scenes from Hurricane Harvey, to flee to the north and west. But by Saturday morning, the storm had shifted west. And suddenly, Naples, Fort Myers and Tampa, a collection of Gulf Coast cities particularly vulnerable to storm surge, found themselves in harm’s way. For days, that part of the state had been considered for some a safe haven; all of a sudden it was the bull’s eye.
“I feel like the storm is chasing us,” said Antonella Giannantonio, 51, who wasted no time last week packing her family, including her octogenarian parents, into two cars, then driving from North Miami Beach to Naples, then Tampa.
Wearing a Navy cap, Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, stood before a bank of microphones as the storm crept closer, sounding the alarm in brutally direct sound bites: Evacuate. Leave now. Get out. His plain-spoken words and Irma’s promise of devastation forced one of the largest evacuations this country has seen.
On Sunday, as Irma’s winds left millions of Floridians in the dark, Mr. Scott’s message was even more sobering, as if there might be little else to say: “Pray.”
In Key West, a place so vulnerable that the authorities had said to remain was the most foolhardy of moves, Richard Peter Matson stayed anyway, and slept little as Irma neared. Even with a Category 4 storm bearing down on his home, he defended his decision to stay put, despite what he described as a challenging night. “I kept tossing, turning,” said Mr. Matson, an 81-year-old artist. “Things kept smashing and banging,” he said.
When the winds moved on, the Key West holdout stepped outside to briefly inspect his street, now strewn with debris and branches, broken shutters and windows. He saw a downed cable and remembered the voices of friends who had warned him he’d be electrocuted if he stayed behind.
If there is an opposite of a storm-chaser, it would be Brian Plate, a Key West boat captain who spent the past few days on the run. Mr. Plate, 36, took a cat and a friend and hit the road at about 2:30 a.m. Thursday, headed for St. Petersburg, a seemingly safe 400 miles away. Two hours into the seven-hour ride, he was so tired that he pulled over to take a nap. He awoke the next morning to grim news: Irma, then a Category 5 storm, was now headed for St. Petersburg.
He hit the road again, and about eight hours later, pulled into a friend’s farm in Sale City, Ga., carrying 100 pounds of rice and beans, plenty of tortillas, a generator and a portable stove. He learned there that the storm is headed for Georgia, too — but he is done running.
“My nerves are completely shot,” he said, expressing worry for his friends who stayed “down there.”
After ramming Key West, Irma marched north on Sunday, eventually coming ashore again at Marco Island, Fla., near Naples, around 3:30 p.m. In Miami, which escaped a direct hit, the storm nonetheless intensified enough to make a solid five-story hotel vibrate. Rain fell hard, the wind howled, and the daytime sky grew dark. In many places, water made the pavement go away, flooding areas across South Florida, from Fort Lauderdale to Miami and Miami Beach.
Behind the Element hotel by the Miami International Airport, a lake overflowed, sending water into the parking lot and up to the sandbags protecting the lobby.
The guests were a mix of residents of surrounding neighborhoods, stranded airline passengers and crew, and cruise-ship travelers who were brought back to port early and left to ride out the storm. Among the crowd was Ana Matia, who lives in the Brickell neighborhood of Miami. She felt safe in her building, she said, but worried about being cut off with her daughter, Alejandra, 5, for days on end. So they decamped to the hotel. Ms. Matia had friends who fled west, only to hear about the storm’s trajectory and flee back east again.
Four days before Irma hit, the Stovall family left their Coconut Grove cottage for St. Petersburg to escape the worst of the storm. John and Colleen Stovall; their son, Chaille; and their two cats made the 270-mile journey.
Mrs. Stovall, 57, the producing artistic director of Shakespeare Miami, who also lived through Hurricane Andrew, rescued her grandmother’s silver, some jewelry and her own beloved 2nd edition of The Norton Shakespeare.
“We are feeling a little snakebit,” Mrs. Stovall, said while a crew worked furiously to cover the 80 windows of her brother-in-law’s three-story house in a historic St. Petersburg neighborhood, six blocks from the bay. “We are eating breakfast, and my brother-in-law says: ‘I have good news and bad news. The good news is, your house won’t be destroyed. The bad news is, it’s coming for us.’ ”
Before Irma, Randy Rogers and Chuck Anderson, retirees, neighbors and fishing buddies, were accustomed to taking their identical 22-foot Hurricane deck boats out on the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers in pursuit of sea trout, redfish and snook.
As Irma’s driving rain swept across the windows of the hotel where they took refuge on Sunday, the two men wondered what would be left of that life after the storm. Even if the water somehow spared their homes and boats, Mr. Rogers said, the wind probably would not.
MIAMI — This is Sunday’s overview of storm coverage. Read the latest with Monday’s live updates on Irma.
Ready or not, Florida found itself face to face with Hurricane Irma’s galloping winds and rains on Sunday, as evacuees and holdouts alike marked uneasy time in homes and shelters from the Keys to the Panhandle, tap-tapping their nearly dead cellphones for news they were frantic to hear but helpless to change.
The hurricane rammed ashore at Cudjoe Key before whirling on the state’s southwest and west coast on the first day of its sodden chug north, buckling two giant construction cranes in Miami and rotating others like clock hands, snacking on trees and power lines, and interrupting millions of lives.
An apocalyptic forecast had already forced one of the largest evacuations in American history. Now it was time to find out what the storm would do — and whether the heavily populated cities of Naples, Fort Myers, St. Petersburg and Tampa were prepared.
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn of Tampa said at a Sunday news conference, paraphrasing the boxer Mike Tyson. “Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.”
Having flattened a string of Caribbean islands and strafed Puerto Rico and Cuba over the last week as a dangerous Category 4 and 5 storm, Irma was downgraded on Sunday afternoon to Category 2, according to the National Hurricane Center. The center said that while the storm was weakening, it was “expected to remain a powerful hurricane,” with maximum sustained winds near 110 miles per hour, down from 130 m.p.h. On Monday, it was set to spin over northern Florida, with Georgia next in line.
The sea was Irma’s ally in destruction. In Key Largo, it annexed backyard pools. In Miami, it poured a salt river down Biscayne Boulevard, the city’s main artery. In Naples and Tampa Bay, it pulled back from the shoreline, leaving waters so shallow that unwary dogs could splash around what remained. But that was only a prelude to a violent return: When the wind changed, scientists warned, the water would hurl itself right back to where it was, and then some.
At least four deaths were reported in Florida after the storm’s arrival on Sunday, adding to a death toll of at least 27 from its Caribbean rampage. More than three million people in Florida were without power, officials said on Sunday night.
Officials along the Gulf Coast had believed they would be spared the worst of the assault until the storm’s trajectory took an unfavorable westward bounce late in the week. After a Saturday spent hastily converting fortified buildings into shelters, they were hurrying the final preparations into place on Sunday.
Curfews were declared in Collier County, which includes Naples; Lee County, which includes Fort Myers; and in Tampa, and officials said they would not be lifted until the storm cleared. Shortly before 5 p.m. Sunday, the Tampa police called officers off the streets as the city confronted consistent wind gusts of more than 40 m.p.h. The westbound lanes on two of the three bridges connecting Tampa with St. Petersburg were closed.
Lest any humans decide to take the weather into their own hands, the sheriff’s office in Pasco County, north of Tampa Bay, was telling local residents not to shoot weapons at the hurricane.
“You won’t make it turn around,” the sheriff’s office tweeted, “& it will have very dangerous side effects.”
Midafternoon in Fort Myers, it was hard to tell which was worse, the wind or the rain.
The wind whipped the tops of palm trees around like pompoms in the hands of a cheerleader. At one Fort Myers hotel, the rain pelted the building with such force that it came into rooms around window frames, stains spreading ever wider on the carpet.
But the Keys, a collection of islands off Florida’s southern tip, met Irma first.
Images showed entire houses underwater. The flooding in Key Largo had small boats bobbing in the streets next to furniture and refrigerators like rubber toys in a bathtub. Shingles were kidnapped from roofs; swimming pools dissolved into the ocean.
“Still whiteout,” John Huston, a resident who had stayed, wrote in a text message to The Associated Press around lunchtime on Sunday. “Send cold beer.”
Local authorities were still waiting out the storm before determining the extent of the flooding and damage. But one of Irma’s casualties was indisputable: The roof of the Key Largo building that local emergency operations officials were using after they fled their headquarters in Marathon had blown off.
On Key West, by contrast, one resident who was able to speak to a reporter by landline described streets pocked with shutters, windows and branches, but no flooding or ravaged houses. The resident, an 81-year-old artist named Richard Peter Matson who has lived in an old townhouse there since 1980, had decided to shelter in his home against all advice.
“If anything was going to happen,” Mr. Matson said, “I wanted to be here to take care of it.”
Those who did evacuate should not come back until local officials had had a chance to inspect the 42 bridges that connect the Keys to each other and to the mainland, said Cammy Clark, a county spokeswoman. As a precaution, officials were asking residents to boil water.
Irma was capricious. The residents of the Miami area, once projected to bear the worst of it, seemed at some points on Sunday to be suffering more from the fidgets than anything else.
As power vanished, their cellphones became their only tether to news, family and friends. When their cellphone batteries died, they dashed out to their cars to recharge.
Yamile Castella and her husband, Ramon, both Miami natives, spent Sunday reading, listening to “Hamilton” and watching “Wonder Woman” until the wind gusts intensified enough to throw half an avocado tree at their house. All the while, Ms. Castella was juggling four chats on WhatsApp — a rowing group, a running group, and two family groups, everyone trading stories about the highest gusts, who was eating what, who was doing what.
“We feel like we’re not alone,” she said.
To the north, most could not yet afford to relax.
By Sunday afternoon, more than half of the 45 shelters in Hillsborough County, which contains Tampa, had filled, including a shelter for people with special medical needs that had sprung up on the floor of the Sun Dome arena at the University of South Florida. There were nearly 800 people there, including patients, volunteers, nurses and doctors, and they were out of cots and pillows. Mike Wagner, the shelter’s manager, had to tell a woman and her family that there was no room.
“We just had to tell her, you have to go back home and hunker down,” Mr. Wagner said. “It’s a patient with five family members and a pet. It’s a sad state of affairs, but you have to draw some limits.”
The floor of the stadium, which is usually the home of the university’s basketball and volleyball teams, was now a patchwork of cots — 435 of them — and medical devices. Patients were hooked into oxygen machines and tucked under plaid or striped blankets. There was a special section for hospice patients, and more cots lined the hallways.
Mr. Wagner’s main worry was trying to ration precious time with the electrical outlets. It was becoming nearly impossible to accommodate new patients who needed electricity around the clock to power their medical equipment.
“We’re physically going to have to unplug someone, we’re telling them, you have to go back home,” Mr. Wagner said. “I don’t even know how that works for them. They’ll have to find some place. But I can’t unplug you, if you need oxygen, just to plug someone else in.”
John Hawrsk, 67, was caring for his 96-year-old mother, whom he was keeping slightly sedated so she would stay calm.
“She gets kind of panicky, there’s a little confusion,” Mr. Hawrsk said. “Try to keep her eyes closed, try to get her to sleep as much as she can on her own.”
North of Irma’s swirl, in Orlando, searchers, canine handlers, doctors and communications experts had come from as far as Los Angeles to help.
Warn your families that Hurricane Irma could end communications home for days, Chuck Ruddell, a member of California Task Force 1, told his teammates. Accept that the team, which worked the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, might be sleeping at high schools and fairgrounds for weeks more. And prepare to make snap decisions about who to save first.
Speaking in shorthand, the men and women checked their eight boats, three tractor-trailers and other equipment. They scanned maps of Florida communities. They watched the news.