Hurricane Irma pummels Florida; at least 3 dead including sheriff’s deputy

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Hurricane Irma is pummeling Florida with powerful winds and rain after making landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm this morning. The hurricane, which this afternoon was downgraded to a Category 3, has left at least three people dead in the state, including a sheriff’s deputy, and over 1.5 million households and businesses without power.

In Miami, winds whipped around high-rise buildings at speeds approaching 100 mph, the National Weather Service said. A 94 mph wind gust was recorded at Miami International Airport.

A tower crane slammed by the high winds collapsed on top of a high-rise under construction in Miami this morning, city officials said.

The Miami-Dade Police Department tweeted that its officers are sheltered for their safety and cannot respond to calls for help, warning residents, “DO NOT venture out!”

In Pembroke Pines north of Miami, a 109 mph wind gust was reported.

Irma this morning also brought wind gusts of 120 mph to the National Key Deer Refuge on the Florida Keys and 89 mph winds to Key West.

Florida Keys officials said today that residents who evacuated should not return until further notice.

By 11 a.m., the storm had moved away from the Keys and up toward Naples on Florida’s west coast.

Irma is forecast to move up the western coastline of Florida this afternoon, with another landfall possible later today near Fort Myers and Naples, with winds of up to 115 mph expected this afternoon in the western part of Collier County.

At 2 p.m., Irma was 35 miles south of Naples.

Wind gusts of 75 mph were recorded at the Naples Airport early today, and officials were warning people to stay indoors and away from windows.

Some now sheltered in Naples had fled from the eastern side of Florida when it was first forecast that Irma would hit the eastern coastline. The mayor of Naples said those in hotels around the city are being ordered out of common areas and into their rooms.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned residents of dangerous storm surges that could reach 10 to 15 feet above sea level in the Naples area.

“Do not think the storm is over when the wind slows down,” Scott said Saturday. The dangerous storm surge “will rush in and could kill you.”

“You need to stay in a safe place,” the governor said. “Be prepared, listen to local evacuation advisories.”

The National Weather Service warned Florida residents that being in the eye of a hurricane can lead to a false sense of security: “IF winds go calm, you’re in the eye. Stay inside! Winds dramatically shift and will do so violently! STAY INSIDE!”

Fatalities in Florida

As Irma bore down on Florida this morning, at least three deaths were reported in the state.

A man in Monroe County, which encompasses Key West, was killed after he lost control of a truck that carried a generator as winds whipped at tropical-storm strength, officials said.

Two other people, a sheriff’s deputy and a corrections officer, died from a two-car crash in the rain in Hardee County, which is about 60 miles inland from Sarasota, officials said.

The deputy, identified as Julie Bridges, was a 13-year veteran of the county force, said Hardee County Sheriff Arnold Lanier. She was heading home after a night shift, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

The second victim was a sergeant at the Hardee Correctional Institute who had been on his way to work, the highway patrol said.

Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, the death toll from the hurricane has risen to 22, bringing the total number in Irma’s path who have died to at least 25.

Millions ordered to evacuate

As the monster storm neared, about 6.5 million Floridians were under mandatory and voluntarily evacuation orders. Evacuations were ordered in Georgia and South Carolina as well.

Over 116,000 people are in 530 shelters across Florida to ride out the storm, while others decided to hunker down at home bracing for Irma’s impact.

Widespread power outages

By noon today, over 1,500,000 customers were without power in Florida.

Tornado watch

A tornado watch is in effect today for Fort Myers, Tampa, Melbourne, Daytona Beach and Jacksonville. One tornado was confirmed this morning in Hardee County.

Governor vows to take care of Floridians

Scott said at a news conference today that he “requested a major disaster declaration from President [Donald] Trump to help bring important federal resources and aid to Florida.”

Scott said hours earlier on ABC News’ “This Week” that “we’re going to make sure every person in the state is taken care of to the extent we can. It’s hard to do it during a storm, but as soon as that storm passes, our first responders will be out there doing everything they can to take care of every person in the state.”

Scott said Trump has “offered every resource there is of the federal government.”

“He said he’ll be praying for us,” Scott added.

Georgia’s governor expands state of emergency to all counties

Irma’s heavy rain and wind is expected to reach Georgia, too, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal today expanded his emergency declaration so all Georgia counties are under states of emergency.