The storm has pushed water out of a bay in Tampa, but forecasters are telling people not to venture out there, because it’s going to return with a potentially deadly vengeance.
Fears grew how Tampa would deal with the storm after a July analysis by the Washington Post concluded that “the area is due for a major hurricane, and is not prepared. If a big one scores a direct hit, the damage would likely surpass Katrina.” According to the report Tampa the most vulnerable city in United States to a hurricane.
Largo resident William Zhang told news.com.au the mood was tense, that everyone was just waiting.
“It’s like someone has dropped a glass and everyone’s just watching it fall to the ground,” he said. “No one is outside. All the businesses in the area are closed, half since yesterday and all the gas stations have been out of gasoline for a couple of days.”
Mr Zhang had elected to stay in Largo in the Tampa Bay area and directly in Irma’s path to help his parents reinforce their house.
He said his concrete apartment building should “be very safe” from the worst effects of the hurricane and that many of his elderly neighbours had opted to remain. He said judging from the number of cars parked in his area, only a quarter of the residents of the surrounding buildings have fled.
While there has been no flooding yet, Mr Zhang’s building is in a flood zone. The power is already fluctuating but he said the real concerns will be when the power and water is cut off.
Tampa’s mayor, Bob Buckhorn, declared indefinite curfew in Florida city starting at 6pm local time.
Mr Buckhorn delivered a stark warning online for everyone in one of Florida’s most densely populated regions.
Buckhorn has announced a 6pm mandatory curfew.
“We know we are ground zero for this storm. We have avoided it for 90 winds but our time has come to be ready,” he wrote on Twitter.
“We are about to get punched in the face by this storm.”
On Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, approximately 100 people were walking Sunday afternoon on what was Old Tampa Bay — a body of water near downtown. Hurricane Irma’s winds and low tide have pushed the water unusually far from its normal position. Some people are venturing as far as 180m out to get to the water’s new edge. The water is normally about 1m to 1.5m deep and reaches a seawall.
MIAMI BATTERED AS CRANES COLLAPSE
While residents on Florida’s west coast are bracing themselves for the devastating eye of the hurricane, which could generate 4.5m walls of water, the east coast is being threatened by a series of twisters.
Indeed, a “fast-moving tornado” has been reported to be seen on the ground at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, The Sun reports.
In Miami the storm downed two cranes in the city’s downtown with social media footage capturing the terrifying moment one of them toppled.
The city — given a last-moment reprieve from the worst of the storm — is suffering major electricity cuts as winds while the downtown area of the city is submerged with flood waters.
Waves poured over a Miami seawall, flooding streets a couple of blocks from the waterfront through the financial district and past consulates, leaving high rise apartment buildings standing like islands in the flood.
POLICE SHERIFF AMONG DEAD
The storm has so far claimed three confirmed victims.
A Florida Sheriff’s deputy helping out at a shelter and a corrections officer on his way to work were killed in a head-on crash, according to the Miami Herald.
Hardee County Sheriff’s deputy Julie Bridges, a mum of one and officer for the past 18 years, crashed at 6.30am Sunday at Zolfo Springs, about 100km from Sarasota.
Sergeant Joseph Ossman was killed as he drove in to start his shift at Hardee County Correctional Institute.
Another man was killed after winds caused him to lose control of the truck he was driving through Monroe County, which contains Key West. He had been carrying a generator, local officials told ABC News.
NEIGHBOURING GEORGIA ALSO AT RISK
Some 6.5 million people, about a third of the state’s population, had been ordered to evacuate southern Florida.
However, the impact of the storm could be felt in the neighbouring state of Georgia with a tropical storm warning issued for Atlanta, the first time that has happened in the city’s history. The warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected within the next 36 hours. Peak winds were expected to reach 48 to 64km/h with gusts of up to 88km/h.