International desk, September 11: Powerful winds from Hurricane Irma whipped through southwest Florida on Sunday, downing power lines and leaving a trail of debris behind.
Forecasters warned people in the hurricane’s path to prepare for “dangerous storm surges” and flash flooding.
Now a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, Hurricane Irma is about 50 miles east-northeast of Fort Myers, Florida, moving north at 14 mph.
Irma is already uprooting trees and turning streets into rivers.
And there’s plenty more to come as the storm climbs the coast toward Tampa.
In its latest update at 03:00 GMT Monday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) says “hurricane conditions are continuing across portions of the central Florida peninsula”.
Irma currently has maximum sustained winds of 100mph (160km/h), the NHC says.
The storm was earlier pummelling the area around the city of Fort Myers.
Irma has already devastated parts of the Caribbean, killing at least 28 people.
Some 6.3 million people in Florida had been told to evacuate.
President Donald Trump has approved a major disaster declaration and emergency federal aid for Florida.
He described the hurricane as a “big monster”, praising the federal agencies involved with the storm and saying he would go to the state “very soon”.
“We may have been a little bit lucky in that it went on the west, and it may not have been quite as disruptive, but we’re going to see, it’s going to play out over the next five or six hours,” Mr Trump added.
“We’re all hanging in there, ready to get out there to help others as soon as it’s safe to do so,” Marco Island Police Chief Al Schettino said as the storm hit his city on Sunday afternoon.
Hurricane Irma first made landfall in the Florida Keys on Sunday morning, then made landfall in the state again Sunday afternoon when it hit Marco Island.
The storm’s impact was widespread. Even areas that didn’t face a direct hit from Irma saw flooding and downed power lines. In Riviera Beach, on Florida’s east coast, winds partially ripped roofs off two apartment buildings, forcing rescuers to evacuate about 50 people from the complex, the city’s mayor said.
Expected to be even more dangerous than the powerful winds are the storm surges that threaten Florida’s coastal cities.
“The threat of catastrophic storm surge flooding is highest along the southwest coast of Florida, where 10 to 15 feet of inundation above ground level is expected,” the hurricane center said. “This is a life-threatening situation.”