Category 3 Hurricane Irma makes landfall in Florida

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Hurricane Irma has made landfall in the Florida Keys and weather experts say the next target is the highly populated Tampa-St. Petersburg region.

It has now weakened to Category 2 hurricane as it approaches Naples, Florida.

The storm is 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of Naples and has picked up speed moving north at 12 mph (19 kilometers per hour).

The now Category 3 hurricane will keep on battering all of South Florida with high wind and surge, forecasters say. The hurricane center in western Miami, across the state from the eye of the mammoth storm, recorded an 81 mph (130 kilometers per hour) wind gust.

 

Officials say the band of rain and tornado producing cells is moving quickly. There have been no reports of tornadoes touching down.

Two people were killed in a head-on crash in a county where Hurricane Irma’s wind and rain have started to blow in. Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Greg Bueno said the crash happened Sunday morning in Hardee County, which is southeast of Tampa.

It wasn’t immediately clear what role the weather may have played. He says troopers are investigating the crash and no further details were immediately available. Bueno said in an email that the area is starting to feel the effects of Hurricane Irma.

Florida Power and Light says it will be weeks, not days, before electricity is fully restored because of damage being done by the hurricane.

Spokesman Rob Gould said Sunday that an estimated 3.4 million homes and businesses will lose power once the worst of Irma reaches the Florida mainland.

He expects thousands of miles (kilometers) of poles and lines will need to be replaced, particularly on the Gulf coast. As of Sunday afternoon, about 1.5 million customers were without power.

The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for the county, saying a severe thunderstorm was in the area.

France and the Netherlands say their islands in the Caribbean were spared major damage from Hurricane Jose, which passed farther away from the islands than expected.

The Sunday announcements - coming from France's national weather service and the Dutch navy - were good news for islands that had already been devastated by Hurricane Irma last week.

Florida officials say 127,000 people across the state have taken refuge in more than 500 shelters as Hurricane Irma takes aim at the state.

The state Division of Emergency Management did not specify which shelters had the most people.

Meanwhile, utility officials were warning that the storm could leave millions without power by the time it finishes moving through the state. Already, more than 2 million Florida customers were in the dark on Sunday morning as the hurricane made landfall in the Florida Keys.

Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility, is reporting on Sunday that many people living in the three populous south Florida counties of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach are without power. State officials say another 64,000 customers who rely on smaller utilities have also lost electricity.

Meteo-France said Jose's center passed overnight about 75 miles (125 kilometers) from St. Martin and 80 miles (135 kilometers) from St. Barts, though it still produced gales of up to 48 mph (80 kph) around the islands.

In a tweet Sunday, the Netherlands' navy says the situation after Jose passed north of the islands overnight is "better than expected." Scores of marines and troops will resume their efforts to restore vital infrastructure and distribute food and water on St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius.

In a separate tweet, the navy said the security situation on St. Maarten, which saw widespread looting and robberies after Hurricane Irma, has improved thanks to patrols by marines and police flown to the island to help overwhelmed local law enforcement.

As Hurricane Irma threatened to wallop the St. Petersburg area, several folks got out on the beach ahead of the storm.

As they milled about Sunday morning, they looked at sailboats bobbing in the wind as the sun rose and took selfies and photos of the beach.

St. Petersburg resident John Leuders says he feels safe. With stores out of plywood, he tore down part of his fence to board up windows. He came down to the beach out of curiosity and noted the strong winds along the water.

Another resident, Sally Carlson, says she’s been around for other storms and hurricanes, but this one scares her. She says she wanted to see the city one more time before any problems.

She adds: “I’m hoping it comes out unscathed, but I know better.”

Florida officials say 127,000 people across the state have taken refuge in more than 500 shelters as Hurricane Irma takes aim at the state.

The state Division of Emergency Management did not specify which shelters had the most people.

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