Hurricane Irma smashed into the US mainland on Sunday bringing with it 135 mph winds that killed several people, flooded parts of downtown Miami, and left more than a million without power.
The mammoth storm barreled its way into the Florida Keys at breakfast time ripping roofs off trailers, flattening palm trees, and hurling road signs through the air, after leaving a trail of devastation in the Caribbean where at least 25 people died.
Rick Scott, Florida’s governor, said: “People ask what they can do for us. Pray for us. We need volunteers, nurses. I hope everybody will pray for us. We can pray, that’s the biggest thing we can do.”
As the storm ripped through Miami waist-deep water surged through streets at least three blocks from the shore.
Roads in the downtown area were turned into rivers as water raced between office buildings and blocks of flats, while street signs swung crazily.
A giant crane collapsed and was left dangling perilously over a partially constructed high rise building.
Miami’s deputy fire chief Joseph Zahralban said people in nearby structures should move somewhere safe but there was nothing else emergency services could do to help.
He said: “The weather has deteriorated to the point where we’re not comfortable even sending anybody out to even evaluate the situation. So our only concern right now is the protection of life, not property.”
The crane was one of more than 20 in Miami that were unable to be dismantled in time and there were fears others could come crashing down.
One woman in Miami had to deliver her own baby girl during the storm as emergency services were unable to reach her. A fire service spokesman said: “We weren’t able to respond. Dispatch told her how to do it and she’s stable at home.”
Among at least three people reported dead as Irma hit was sheriff’s deputy Julie Bridges who died alongside another in a car crash about 60 miles from Sarasota.
In a separate accident, a man lost control of a truck in strong winds in Key West.
Irma made landfall in Florida on Sunday morning at Cudjoe Key with sustained winds of 130 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
It was expected to bring up to 25 inches of rain in some parts of the Keys.
Some 6.4 million Floridians had been ordered to evacuate, more than a quarter of Florida’ population, amid warnings they would be “on their own” if they stayed. Of those who stayed 100,000 were in shelters, but some chose to remain in their own homes.
The Republican governor said on NBC that he spoke to President Donald Trump, and “everything I’ve asked out of the federal government, he’s made sure he gave us.”
Once the storm passes, “we’re going to need a lot of help,” Mr Scott warned.
But he also described Florida as “a tough state. We’re going to come through this.”