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Update: Hurricane Irma lays siege to Florida, makes Gulf Coast landfall


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Update: Hurricane Irma lays siege to Florida, makes Gulf Coast landfall

Hurricane Irma made landfall in southwestern Florida as a Category 3 hurricane with winds exceeding 100 mph, beginning a new phase of the storm's onslaught as it rakes the length of the state.

The 3:35 p.m. ET landfall was Irma's second in Florida on Sept. 10, having crossed the Florida Keys with 130 mph sustained winds ― Category 4 strength ― in the morning.

Hurricane-force winds extended for 80 miles from Irma's center and tropical-storm-force winds for 220 miles, according to the National Hurricane Center's 2 p.m. ET update. The eye of the storm made land at Marco Island on Florida's southern Gulf Coast and was headed north toward Naples and the Tampa Bay area.

Keys Energy, the Florida Keys' power provider, said late Sept. 9 that all 29,000 customers had lost power, among the millions of customers without power as the storm slowly churns toward Georgia and points northwest.

Aside from the winds, which crumpled at least two high-rise construction cranes in Miami, and the driving rain, Irma continues to pose a threat to life and property through coastal storm surges. Surge warnings are in place up and down the state's Atlantic and Gulf coasts, with up to 15 feet of surge predicted in the southwest near the landfall point. Multiple news images Sept. 10 showed the Atlantic pouring into parts of downtown Miami.

Preparations on Florida's mainland were already well underway before Sept. 10. More than 6 million Floridians are under an evacuation order, and NextEra Energy Inc.'s Florida Power & Light Co. said Sept. 9 that it had in place the "largest pre-storm restoration workforce ever assembled, not just in our company's history, but in U.S. history."

An FPL spokesman said Sept. 10 that the conditions are so dire that the effort to restore power could take weeks even with the historic restoration force of about 17,000 workers.

The utility said Sept. 8 that 4.1 million customer accounts, representing 9 million people, could lose power in the storm. Duke Energy Corp.'s Duke Energy Florida LLC said Sept. 9 that outages could exceed 1 million customers, more than half the utility's Florida accounts.

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The board of governors of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Florida's insurer of last resort, approved an emergency authorization Sept. 6 to allow it to respond more quickly. The authorization provides staff with more authority to enter contracts and buy goods and services to prepare for and respond to the storm.

The insurer's preliminary expectations were for more than 100,000 claims. It is ramping up its call center capabilities and has more than 250,000 policies potentially in the storm's path.

Irma's economic toll could hit $200 billion, according to Enki Research disaster modeler Chuck Watson. It had already killed at least 25 people in the Caribbean before making its Florida approach.