Miami becomes no man's land as Hurricane Irma swoops by
On Sunday morning, many residents in south Florida were not woken by alarm, but by the sound of the howling wind that managed to penetrate even the toughest buildings.
Just after 9am local time (1300 GMT), the US National Hurricane Center announced that Category Four Hurricane Irma finally made landfall in the Florida Keys, after a week of anticipation of what was said to be one of the strongest hurricanes to have formed over the Atlantic Ocean.
The Florida Keys are a coral cay archipelago located off the southern coast of Florida
Authorities said 27 people have been killed by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean. The death toll is expected to rise as the path of the hurricane is projected to cross ill-prepared population centers in west Florida.
Flight charts showed that the hurricane has made the entire state of Florida and the lower half of Georgia no-fly zones.
As the eye of the hurricane crept past the Florida Keys and onto the continent, rainfall and wind speed steadily strengthened in Miami,battering towering palm trees and lowly bushes alike, bending them to their limit or breaking them altogether.
Trees with trunks as thick as half a meter in diameter were ripped out of earth, smashing the windows of nearby cars. Palm tree branches littered the deserted streets, entirely blocking two lane streets.
Much of downtown Miami has been flooded due to the storm surge, and two construction cranes have also been broken.
TV signals have been completely cut off since early morning and power went out shortly after.
Local media reported that more than 2 million people are out of power in the state of Florida, including three quarters of the Miami-Dade County located in southeast of Florida. Utility officials said it will take weeks to restore electricity to everyone.
Local police have imposed a curfew starting 7pm (2300 GMT) Saturday until 7am (1100 GMT) Sunday, and said police and the fire department will not respond to calls after the wind speed reaches 39 mph, or 63 kph.
Nearly 7 million people in southeast United States were warned to evacuate, including 6.4 million in Florida alone, reports said.
But the devastating weather has brought people closer.
Hunkering down in a hotel lobby, the Baer family was enjoying a game of cards, after a widespread power outage ruled out other forms of entertainment.
"We just want to make the best out of the situation," Doug Baer said, as he dealt cards to his family members.
"It's better to stay here with other people in a hotel lobby than alone at home. We have a German family, a Peruvian family and a mother and a daughter from Barcelona here," Baer counted his new acquaintances.
Having gone through Hurricanes Andrew and Wilma, Doug was prepared for Hurricane Irma. He stocked up on food, water and gas on Tuesday, and booked the hotel rooms for his family in advance to take advantage of the electric generator there.
"We were relieved to learn that the hurricane has diverted from Miami. We are hoping to leave the hotel by Tuesday or Wednesday, if the road to our neighborhood can be cleared," he said.
The hurricane, which arrived in Florida as a Category 4 storm, the second highest level on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, weakened to a Category 2 with a maximum sustained wind speed of 177 kph by afternoon as it marched up the state's west coast.
After leaving Florida, a weakened Irma is expected to push into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and beyond. A tropical storm warning was issued for the first time in Atlanta, more than 300 km from the sea coast.
A White House statement said that US President Donald Trump is closely monitoring the situation in Florida, and will travel to the state "very soon."
"I hope there aren't too many people in that path," Trump said of Hurricane Irma. "We tried to warn everybody. That's a bad path to be in."