IRMA Hurricane: Storm’s Winds Begin Battering Tampa Bay Area

After tearing through the Florida Keys and making landfall along the state’s southwest coast, Hurricane Irma crawled up the middle of Florida late Sunday night, slowly spinning toward the Tampa region.

After days of frantic preparations, residents in Tampa were bracing for Irma’s arrival early Monday, weaker than expected but still packing wind gusts of about 100 miles per hour. The storm, which was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, continued to lose strength as it pushed inland, but its reach extended from South Florida to Jacksonville. It was expected to remain a hurricane through at least Monday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.

The counterclockwise rotation of Irma’s wind pushed water out of the Tampa Bay throughout Sunday. But after the center of the storm passes Tampa early Monday morning, the direction of the winds will reverse and push water back into the bay, adding to the flooding, said Andrew McKaughan, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Tampa.

Hurricane Irma’s push into Central Florida shoved heavy rain and strong winds into parts of Florida not initially expecting to feel the brunt of the storm. Winds were reaching 60 miles per hour along the coast near Jacksonville and expected to intensify as Irma’s center slogged north.

Already crippling more than 3.3 million customers across the state, power failures sprawled by the hour. There was no television to keep many residents updated, with only the remaining battery on their cellphones keeping them in touch with the world.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn of Tampa said at a news conference earlier in the day, paraphrasing Mike Tyson. “Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.”

• Irma has dropped more than a foot of rain in several parts of South Florida so far this weekend. As of 10 p.m. Sunday, Fort Pierce, north of Palm Beach on Florida’s east coast, had received the most rain in the state, 15.9 inches, according to the National Weather Service. The second most rainfall was in the Everglades National Park, which got about 13.6 inches.

• Naples and Marco Island, where Hurricane Irma made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast on Sunday, registered the strongest winds in the state during the storm. They topped out at 142 miles per hour in Naples and reached 130 miles per hour in Marco Island, according to the National Weather Service.

• Florida officials have ordered more than 6.5 million residents to leave their homes. Several counties, including Miami-Dade, Collier and Lee, enacted curfews until Monday morning. Collier County also issued a boil-water warning until officials could assess damages to the water system.

• About 540,000 people were told to leave the Georgia coast, and Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for all counties. Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina have declared states of emergency.

• At least four deaths were reported in Florida after the storm’s arrival on Sunday. At least 27 people have been confirmed dead in parts of the Caribbean affected by Irma. The hurricane made landfall in Cuba on Friday evening.

• Separately, Hurricane Jose continued to weaken, getting downgraded to a Category 3 storm, the center said.

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disappeared where whitecaps were just hours before on Sunday in Tampa Bay. James Spann, an Alabama meteorologist and weather blogger, reacted sternly to a photograph on Twitter of people playing in the sand exposed by the retreating water.

“The water will come rushing back with a vengeance,” Mr. Spann said on Twitter. “They won’t have time to get out when it begins.”

On Twitter, Gov. Rick Scott issued an urgent warning to stay away from the water. “DO NOT GO IN. The water will surge back & could overtake you.”

Chris O’Donnell, a reporter with The Tampa Bay Times, later reported that the police had cleared people off of the shore well before the water came back.

The phenomenon of water being drawn off by the power of Hurricane Irma is known as a negative surge. As Mr. Spann warned, that odd condition will not last — and will become dangerous. Michael R. Lowry, a scientist with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a nonprofit education consortium, explained in a series of tweets that staying away from the water in this storm is important because the hurricane is sending a dangerous surge ashore: 10 to 15 feet, for instance, in Naples, Fla.

And as the National Hurricane Center explained, the water will come rushing back to Naples after the eye passes. On Twitter, the center warned: “MOVE AWAY FROM THE WATER!”

One reporter writes from the center of the storm.

Henry Fountain is a Times reporter who was in Fort Myers on Sunday.

Irma’s center passed over Naples at about 5 p.m., the hurricane center said, and continued up the Gulf Coast. For the better part of an hour as it neared Fort Myers, winds that earlier had seemed to fluctuate wildly became far steadier and stronger, spitting rain violently.

 

Only the sound varied — at times a muffled rattling, other times a rumbling roar.

Then shortly after 7 p.m. the winds began to wind down and the rain stopped hitting with such force. Within about 10 minutes there was almost no rain at all, and the palm fronds that moments before were streaming horizontally were now waving in a light breeze. Even though dusk was approaching, the sky lightened considerably.

The center of Irma had arrived.

It stayed that way for about 20 minutes, long enough for a few people at one Fort Myers hotel to sneak outside, marvel at the calm, and breathe in the tropical air.

Then the wind started to pick up again, blowing in the opposite direction.

Authorities in the Tampa Bay area brace for the storm’s arrival.

The city of Tampa had called its police officers off the streets shortly before 5 p.m. as consistent winds of 40 miles per hour started to pummel the city. “Let’s hope the wind gets to a point where we can be out,” Mr. Buckhorn said. The Tampa Bay area is the largest metropolitan region in Hurricane Irma’s path in Florida.

Officials closed the westbound lanes on two of the three bridges over Old Tampa Bay that connect Tampa with Pinellas County, the Gandy Bridge and the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Pinellas County includes St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

By Sunday afternoon, more than half of the 45 shelters in Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, were full, including a shelter for people with special medical needs that had sprung at the USF Sun Dome, an arena at the University of South Florida.

The Florida Keys are ordered closed.

The Florida Keys, including a 113-mile stretch of islands connected by 42 bridges, have been ordered closed for re-entry until further notice, officials announced Sunday.

The authorities had yet to begin inspections of the dozens of bridges that connect the many islands that make up the Keys, said Cammy Clark, a county spokeswoman.

The Florida tourism bureau posted a notice on its website urging tourists to postpone their trips.

Ms. Clark said the authorities were still sheltered in place waiting for the storm to pass and had not yet determined whether there was widespread flooding. One bit of damage was clear: The roof blew off the building in Key Largo that emergency operations officials were using after they fled their own facilities in Marathon.

Officials encouraged residents to shelter in place, even though the storm’s eye had passed.

A holdout weathers the storm in Key West.

Richard Peter Matson, 81, an artist in Key West, decided to stay home even as Irma approached, putting aside warnings from friends who had urged him to flee.

“When the storm passed, I was upstairs, trying to take care of things that were breaking apart,” Mr. Matson said in a phone interview. “I had been all over the house, closing windows, stapling plastic over windows that were open.”

He described a brief inspection of his street. The streets were riddled with debris. Shutters. Windows. Branches. He saw a cable line down and recalled the voices of friends who warned he’d be electrocuted if he stayed behind. “I’ll have curly hair, then,” he said.

He hadn’t spoken to anyone since the storm passed. “There doesn’t seem to be anyone around.”

Miami faces high winds and flooding.

Palm trees shook in South Miami as the wind picked up drastically, with gusts near 100 miles an hour reported by the National Hurricane Center. In the Brickell neighborhood, which is between Biscayne Bay and the Miami River, seawater hurtled down major streets and past high rises.

Winds whipped the huge cranes that dot the Miami skyline around in precarious circles, and the arms of two of them collapsed.

Across the metro Miami area, most buildings and houses were shrouded in darkness, streetlights were out, and police officers and National Guard troops were hunkered down like everyone else.

The storm battered Miami for hours, and many people who had evacuated to hotels and other places of safety found themselves without air-conditioning but with windows shut tight, an atmosphere that quickly became claustrophobic.

“I told my daughter, Emily, ‘Now it gets real,’” said Angel Quirindongo, 31, who was riding out the storm at the Element Hotel. “I told her, ‘Now one piece of bread, later a piece of bread, and save what you really want.’”

Despite the flooding and whipping winds, many in Miami expressed relief as the path of the storm veered toward the west coast.
A Jacksonville resident no longer fears hurricanes anymore: ‘I’m scared of the tornadoes.’

Glenna Veiga thought she had it together on Friday as the storm barreled toward Florida. Jacksonville, where she lives, seemed so far from the threat and the chaos. But then the track got closer to her adopted city and a switch went off.

“I knew that things started to go bad when I started vacuuming the drapes yesterday,” said Ms. Veiga, a professor at Florida State College. “I cleaned everything up. The house is cleaner than it is ever going to be.”

She said she cooked a chicken, kale and quinoa soup and a meatloaf.

“I’ve been good, eating the fruits and veggies,” she said, adding: “I did cave last night and bought a bag of Oreos. I dove into them today.”

By Saturday, she had ratcheted up her preparations and made her game plan for spending the night alone in her shutter-less house, with Trouble, her cat. Jacksonville was hard hit by last year’s Hurricane Matthew and she had an emergency tornado bag at the ready by the door.

“I’m not scared of the hurricane anymore,” she said. “I’m scared of the tornadoes.”

On Sunday morning, she began to analyze her own emotional path as the storm slowly neared. She realized that watching television was making her anxious so she shut it off for the duration. Instead, Ms. Veiga read the coverage online and checked hurricane reports.

As for her cat, she will grab him and put him in the closet with her, if need be. But if the forecasts grow bleak or tornadoes spread and she must flee, she is not sure she can put her cat in a cage in time.

“If I have to leave the house with my tornado bag,” she said, “I don’t think Trouble is coming with me.”

Rescue teams get ready in Orlando.

As the hurricane’s winds and rains approached Orlando, where the storm intensified on Sunday afternoon, rescue teams on standby for missions were briefed about how to ride out the storm in the Orange County Convention Center, which sprawls across seven million square feet.

Travis Warford, a technical informations specialist for California Task Force 1, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday.
SAM HODGSON FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

“When the hurricane hits, stay away from all of the windows,” Robby Cordobes, a safety officer for California Task Force 1, a specialized search-and-rescue team, told about 70 of his colleagues from the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Mr. Cordobes, who said a previous storm had blown out some of the convention center’s windows, added, “It’s fun to watch that thing blow through, but just stay away.”

Cuba assesses the damage.

Source: nytimes

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