CNN- Hurricane Irma’s strong winds and outer rain bands lashed the Florida Keys on Saturday, as the Category 3 storm pushed toward the state amid dire warnings of devastating gales, heavy rain and potentially deadly storm surge.
With sustained winds down to 125 mph, Irma continued to batter Cuba. The storm was expected to re-strengthen and bring hurricane conditions by Saturday night to southern and central Florida, the National Hurricane Center said.
Irma’s eye was due to strike part of the Florida Keys early Sunday morning before driving up the state’s southwestern coast toward Tampa Bay by Sunday afternoon, according to the hurricane center.
As much as 20 inches of rain was predicted through Wednesday across the Florida peninsula and southeast Georgia.
“(The core) is forecast right now to still go through the lower keys, not quite to Key West, and then on up to Naples, on up to Cape Coral, with a Category 4 wind of 140 mph,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said earlier Saturday.
By Saturday at noon, it was too late for residents to leave specified evacuation zones in southwestern Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said hours earlier.
“The storm is here,” he said. “This is a deadly storm, and our state has never seen anything like it.”
A major worry, Scott said, was the storm surge, which is like a sustained high tide that can cause devastating flooding. Even as Irma aimed for Florida’s western coast, Florida’s eastern coastline remained in severe danger from storm-surge flooding, forecasters warned.
Florida’s southwest coast, from Cape Sable to Captiva, could see “catastrophic” storm surge flooding of 10 to 15 feet, the hurricane center warned.