MIAMI -(AP,Sept 9,2017): – With the window closing fast for anyone wanting to escape, Irma hurtled toward Florida with 125 mph winds Saturday on a projected track that could take it away from Miami and instead give the Tampa area its first direct hit from a major hurricane in nearly a century.
“You need to leave — not tonight, not in an hour, right now,” Gov. Rick Scott warned residents in the evacuation zones ahead of the storm’s predicted arrival on Sunday morning.
For days, the forecast had made it look as if the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people on Florida’s Atlantic coast could get hit head-on with the catastrophic and long-dre
The swing in the hurricane’s projected path overnight caught many on Florida’s Gulf coast off guard. By late morning, few businesses in St. Petersburg had put plywood or hurricane shutters on their windows, and some locals groused about the change in the forecast.
“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,” said Jeff Beerbohm, a 52-year-old entrepreneur in St. Petersburg. “As usual, the weatherman, I don’t know why they’re paid.”
Tampa has not been struck by a major hurricane since 1921, when its population was about 10,000, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. Now the area has around 3 million people.
The new course threatened everything from Tampa Bay’s bustling twin cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg to Naples’ mansion- and yacht-lined canals, Sun City Center’s sprawling compound of modest retirement homes, and Sanibel Island’s shell-filled beaches.
With the new forecast, Pinellas County, home to St. Petersburg, ordered 260,000 people to leave.
Irma has left more than 20 people dead in its wake across the Caribbean, ravaging such resort islands as St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Antigua.
The storm weakened slightly in the morning but was expected to pick up strength again before hitting the Sunshine State.
aded Big One.