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Robert Namer
Voice Of America
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SEPTEMBER 10, 2017

     A hurricane-force wind gust was recorded in the Florida Keys late Saturday night -- the first sign of deadly Hurricane Irma's impending landfall on the U.S. mainland.  The weather service said the Smith Shoal Light station recorded a 74 mph wind gust on Saturday night, the Associated Press reported. Meanwhile, the center of Irma was headed toward the Keys with sustained winds of 120 mph.

     The edge of Hurricane Irma kicked up surf, whipped up palm trees and spun up at least one confirmed tornado as it approached landfall in Florida Saturday evening. Irma had been downgraded to a Category 3 storm as it raked the coast of Cuba Saturday morning, but it was expected to get its strength back over the ultra-toasty Florida Straits and hit the peninsula Sunday morning as a dangerous Category 4 storm.

     As of 2 a.m. ET Sunday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) placed Irma about 70 miles southeast of Key West with winds of up to 130 miles per hour. The center said the storm was moving west-northwest at 6 mph.  President Donald Trump tweeted about Irma shortly before 11 p.m. ET. "The U.S. Coast Guard, FEMA and all Federal and State brave people are ready. Here comes Irma. God bless everyone!," the president wrote.

      Tornado warnings have been issued for Fort Lauderdale, Coral Springs, Pompano Beach and Sunrise in Broward County, as well as parts of nearby Palm Beach and Hendry Counties. More than 75,000 people had lost power by Saturday evening, mostly in and around Miami and Fort Lauderdale, as the wind began gusting.  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 by the long-dreaded Big One.

     But that soon changed. Meteorologists predicted Irma's center would blow ashore Sunday morning in the perilously low-lying Florida Keys, then hug the state's west coast, plowing into the Tampa Bay area by Monday morning.  Still, Miami was not out of danger. Because the storm is 350 to 400 miles wide, the metro area could still get life-threatening hurricane winds and dangerous storm surge of 4 to 6 feet, forecasters warned.

     The new course threatens everything from Tampa Bay's bustling twin cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg to Naples' mansion- and yacht-lined canals, Sun City Center's retirement homes, and Sanibel Island's shell-filled beaches.

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