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Hurricane Irma gave Florida a one-two punch this weekend, slamming first into the Florida Keys Sunday morning as a powerful Category 4 storm, then again about 6.5 hours later as a Category 3 hurricane over Marco Island in southwestern Florida.
Irma made landfall over Cudjoe Key in the lower Florida Keys at 9:10 a.m. Sunday with sustained winds of 130 mph, causing widespread destruction from wind and storm surge.
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Monroe County Emergency Management officials said roads and runways in the Keys are being cleared, beginning Monday, to allow resources to arrive by air and land. Experts warn residents not to return during the preliminary cleanup efforts.
“The Keys are basically connected by a series of bridges so officials will have to inspect all of those bridges to make sure that they are still structurally sound for people to actually be able to come back to the Keys,” said AccuWeather Meteorologist Steve Travis,.
Irma hit Marco Island as a Category 3 hurricane at 3:35 p.m. EDT Sunday. It whipped southwestern Florida with 115-mph sustained winds and gusts as high as 142 mph, recorded in Naples.
The east coast of Florida also suffered wind and storm surge damage, even though cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale were about 100 miles from the center of the storm, according to Travis. There were multiple reports of tornadoes across eastern Florida as well, which is unusual for this part of the United States, he said.
“Florida doesn’t usually get the types of storms that cause tornadoes – supercell thunderstorms," Travis said. "It’s really only in a hurricane that this area would get these types of conditions to cause tornadoes.”
In Jacksonville, officials expanded the mandatory evacuation Monday as the St. Johns River in the downtown area has already risen at least a foot above the previous high level crest, recorded in 1964 during Hurricane Dora.
Two law enforcement officers were in a fatal car accident in Hardee County on Sunday; a third person was in a single-vehicle accident Sunday in Orange County, Florida. On Monday, the mayor of Miami-Dade County confirmed a person died from carbon monoxide poisoning after running a generator inside a house without proper ventilation.
As of 11:51 a.m. EDT Monday, Irma has left more than 6.5 million without power in Florida.
This is the first year that two Atlantic Basin hurricanes have made landfall at Category 4 strength in the U.S. in one season since records began in 1851.
Irma prompted the largest evacuation in U.S. history, taking 7 million people out of their homes. More than 30 percent of Florida's entire population were asked to evacuate.
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