Hurricane Irma surges through the Florida Keys with violent winds.
PLANTATION, Fla. — Hurricane Irma slammed into the Florida Keys on Sunday morning as a Category 4 storm, uprooting and snapping off trees, filling waterfront streets with surging seawater and knocking out power.
Officials worry that Irma, with sustained winds of 130 mph, has devastated the Keys, a series of low-lying coral-and-sand islands tailing off the southern tip of Florida. The National Weather Service reported the storm’s eye crossed the chain 20 miles from Key West, over the Big Pine, Summerland and Cudjoe Keys.
“Everything is underwater, I mean everything,” said Larry Kahn, an editor for the local newspaper The Keynoter. Kahn has been riding out the storm in a shelter that has no power or supplies.
Sunday night, Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay instituted an indefinite dusk-to-dawn curfew to reduce travel danger and the risk of looting.
“Anyone out after the designated times is subject to arrest,” he said in a statement.
As the storm passed, sheets of rain were visible down Key West’s legendary Duval Street, with what appeared to be at least several inches of water flowing in the street, videos posted to Twitter showed.
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Monroe County officials on Sunday night said they’ve called in an airborne relief mission with emergency supplies and personnel to aid the recovery. Officials said reopening the Keys’ two airports are a top priority; the relief mission will arrive via military C-310 cargo planes and other aircraft, they said.
“This is a humanitarian crisis,” Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt said in a statement. “Help is on the way.”
Residents were told Sunday afternoon that they should consider boiling or treating drinking water, in case the Keys’ water system was compromised. Crews were to assess the system once the storm eased.
And county officials said close-in waters were littered with storm debris and presented a navigation hazard for boats.
“Monroe County’s nearshore waters have become a navigation hazard in parts of the Keys with debris, sunken boats, loose boats, buoys and markers,” county officials said in a statement. “Do not bring a boat into the Keys.”
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Key West is a popular tourist destination, drawing revelers to the Duval Street bars where pianos duel and frozen drinks flow. Americans make up the bulk of Key West’s estimated 2.25 million annual visitors, but the city also attracts Canadians, Germans and the British.
Hurricane Irma pummels Florida Keys. Video provided by AFP Newslook
Half of the Keys’ economy depends directly on tourism — a $2.7 billion industry — according to county officials.
On the Key West waterfront, several sailboats appeared to have been knocked loose from their moorings and were banging against the concrete dock, according to webcam images and social media.
In the upper Keys, water blocked parts of some northbound lanes of U.S. 1, videos and photos showed. Water levels were 3 feet above normal by 10 a.m., the weather service said. Key West’s highest point is just 18 feet above sea level.