Hurricane Irma began its assault on Florida early Sunday with the storm’s northern eyewall reaching the lower Florida Keys as a powerful Category 4 storm.
Irma lashed the area with maximum sustained winds near 130 mph (215 kph) and the US National Hurricane Center said it was expected to remain a powerful storm as it moved through the Florida Keys and near the state’s west coast.
As of 7 am EDT Sunday, the hurricane was centred about 15 miles (25 kilometres) south-southeast of Key West, Florida, and was moving northwest at 8 mph (13 kph). The Key West International Airport measured sustained winds of 50 mph (80 kph) with a gust of up to 70 mph (113 kph), according to the hurricane center.
Tens of thousands of people huddling in shelters watched for updates as the storm swung to the west, now potentially sparing Tampa as well Miami the catastrophic head-on blow forecasters had been warning about for days.