'Pray for us,' says Florida governor as Irma smashes into the coastline
Winds top 210kmh as streets flood and millions left without electricity
Hurricane Irma smashed into the US mainland yesterday, bringing with it 210kmh winds that killed several people, flooded parts of downtown Miami, and left an estimated two million people in Florida without power.
The mammoth storm barrelled 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 person in a car crash about 100km from Sarasota.
In a separate accident, a man lost control of a truck in strong winds in Key West.
Irma made landfall in Florida yesterday morning at Cudjoe Key with sustained winds of 210kmh, the National Hurricane Centre said. It was expected to bring up to 60cm of rain in some parts of the Keys.
Some 6.4 million Floridians had been ordered to evacuate - more than a quarter of Florida's 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.
Explaining why he stayed in Key West, Jason Jonas said: "We're 30-plus feet above sea level and in a place that's built to withstand 360kmh winds. That's a better chance than being exposed out on the highway in traffic trying to make it to Georgia."
By midday yesterday, Irma was leaving the Keys behind and beginning its 20kmh crawl up the west coast of Florida, expected to reach the heavily populated cities of Naples and Tampa by the evening.
The greatest fear for those areas remained the potential for a terrifying three-metre storm surge that could travel 15km inland taking out everything in its path.
There were complaints from some that the last-minute change of direction of the centre of the storm away from Miami in the east meant few preparations had been made.
Jeff Beerbohm (52), an entrepreneur in Tampa, said: "As usual, the weathermen, I don't know why they're paid. For five days, we were told it was going to be on the east coast, and then 24 hours before it hits, we're now told it's coming up the west coast."
Tampa had not been hit by a major hurricane since 1921 when it had a population of just 10,000.
Now, it is home to three million and its retirement homes, canals lined with yachts, and shell-filled beaches were under threat.
Bob Buckhorn, the Mayor of Tampa, said: "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Well, we're about to get punched in the face. We are about to find out what hell looks like."
Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose was predicted to weaken as it pulled away from the Caribbean yesterday.
It had been on course to hit Barbuda and St Martin, already devastated by Irma. But it changed path and the islands avoided its full fury. (© Daily Telegraph, London)