After tearing through the Florida Keys and making landfall along the state’s southwest coast, Hurricane Irma crawled up the middle of Florida late Sunday night, slowly spinning toward the Tampa region.
After days of frantic preparations, residents in Tampa were bracing for Irma’s arrival early Monday, weaker than expected but still packing wind gusts of about 100 miles per hour. The storm, which was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, continued to lose strength as it pushed inland, but its reach extended from South Florida to Jacksonville. It was expected to remain a hurricane through at least Monday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.
The counterclockwise rotation of Irma’s wind pushed water out of the Tampa Bay throughout Sunday. But after the center of the storm passes Tampa early Monday morning, the direction of the winds will reverse and push water back into the bay, adding to the flooding, said Andrew McKaughan, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Tampa.
Hurricane Irma’s push into Central Florida shoved heavy rain and strong winds into parts of Florida not initially expecting to feel the brunt of the storm. Winds were reaching 60 miles per hour along the coast near Jacksonville and expected to intensify as Irma’s center slogged north.
Already crippling more than 3.3 million customers across the state, power failures sprawled by the hour. There was no television to keep many residents updated, with only the remaining battery on their cellphones keeping them in touch with the world.
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn of Tampa said at a news conference earlier in the day, paraphrasing Mike Tyson. “Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.”