Hurricane Irma shifts direction as it closes in on Florida
Hurricane Irma is closing in on the Florida Keys with top winds of 120mph as forecasters monitored a crucial shift in its trajectory that could keep its ferocious eye off the state's south-west coast and over warm gulf water.
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.
But those few miles meant St Petersburg could get a direct hit, rather than its more populous twin across Tampa Bay.
The leading edge of the immense storm bent palm trees and spit rain across South Florida, knocking out power to more than 170,000 homes and businesses, as the eye approached Key West.
If the centre of the storm keeps moving over warm Gulf of Mexico water, it may regain more strength before making landfall again.
St Petersburg, like Tampa, has not taken a head-on blow from a major hurricane in nearly a century.
Clearwater would be next, and then the storm would finally go inland north west of Ocala.
Irma currently has top sustained winds of 120mph and is moving northwards at about 6mph.
More than 170,000 homes and businesses in Florida have lost power and Florida Power and Light said more than half of those shutdowns were in the Miami-Dade area, where about 600,000 people have been ordered to evacuate.
The company has said it expects millions of people to lose power, with some areas experiencing prolonged outages.
The company said it has assembled the largest pre-storm workforce in US history, with more than 16,000 people ready to respond.