After days of alarming warnings forced millions from their homes and effectively shut down daily life across a wide swath of the Southeastern United States, Irma had earlier Sunday made landfall on the lower Florida Keys before beginning what forecasters say could be a painful journey up the state's western coastline.
The storm breached the Florida coast on Sunday morning, making landfall just after 9 a.m. at Cudjoe Key. After churning through the Keys and on through to Florida's southwestern coast, Irma's second landfall occurred in Marco Island, Florida, at 3:35 p.m. A wind gust of 130 mph was reported by the Marco Island police, according to the National Weather Service.
Irma had already made its presence known across South Florida, causing more than two million power outages and lashing major population centers with driving rain and roof-rattling wind. The danger is only just beginning, forecasters warn, because the storm will grind along Florida's Gulf Coast on Sunday bringing life-threatening storm surge.
"Today is going to be the long day," said Mark DeMaria, deputy acting director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Forecasters said Sunday that water levels in in the Naples and Marco Island region could "rapidly rise in a matter of minutes," which could create life-threatening storm surge in this area. Marco Island officials on Sunday afternoon urged people to leave the ground floors of places and head to the "second or higher floor if possible."
Craig Fugate, the former FEMA administrator, spoke to the same program from Gainesville, Florida, which is just north of the state's center, and warned of the danger posed by the storm surge.
"Water is historically the big killer in these hurricanes," Fugate said. "Death by drowning is what we talk about with storm surge."
Authorities say that more than 6.5 million Floridians - a little more than three in 10 residents statewide - have been ordered to evacuate as Irma's outer bands began to batter the state.
Gov. Rick Scott, R, who has been blunt about the storm's potential, had residents in evacuation zones to leave their homes immediately, noting at a certain point, nobody would be able to come rescue them. Two Florida law enforcement officers were reportedly killed early Sunday in a head-on collision.
"This is a life-threatening situation," Scott said at a news briefing Sunday in Tallahassee, the state's capital. "The storm is here now."
Irma had knocked out power to about 2 million customers by Sunday morning, said Rob Gould, a spokesman for Florida Power and Light. While Gould said the company had restored power to about 320,000 of those customers before noon, leaving 1.7 million without power, the utility's online outage tracker had that number north of 2 million by late Sunday afternoon.
"This is a deadly storm, and our state has never seen anything like it," Scott said.
Officials across the state imposed curfews, ordering people to remain home in places from Miami-Dade and Broward county along the southeast coast to Orange County, home to Orlando in Central Florida. In Miami-Dade, the curfew announced stretched from Sunday evening until Monday morning.
Still, despite tornado warnings and curfews, some decided to venture back into the storm. At Pompano Beach High School, which has been transformed into a shelter, several people decided to leave Saturday night once it looked like the storm's core was shifting away from the eastern part of the state.
"We've got hurricane windows at home and the forecast looks like it's not going to be as bad as they predicted," said Laurie Trinkle, who arrived with relatives shortly after noon on Saturday and decided to leave about 12 hours later. "I think we'll be more comfortable at home as long as the power stays on."
Concerns stretched up the coast, into nearby states where some evacuees sought shelter. About 540,000 people in Georgia and 44,000 in South Carolina also were ordered to evacuate the area by Sunday evening. Airports throughout Florida and in Savannah, Georgia, were closed. Disney World is closed Sunday and Monday, with resort hotels staying open.
Florida authorities said that by Sunday afternoon there were more than 530 shelters open with more than 1116,000 people inside.
Emergencies were declared in Georgia and the Carolinas. President Donald Trump received a briefing on Sunday and spoke with governors of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, the White House said.
As storm conditions began to sweep into Miami on Saturday, the bustling city had become a ghost metropolis, with no traffic and few signs of life in most places, though a crowd gathered at Vicky Bakery on Coral Way, the one place for miles that was open.
In downtown Miami, cranes spun like toys, and on Sunday morning one of them collapsed amid pounding winds. The winds were not the only thing to arrive in Miami.
Fire-rescue personnel raced to Little Haiti in response to a call of distress from a woman in labor, according to Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso, and helped deliver the baby. "Mom and baby are good," he said.
In Estero, on the west coast of Florida, thousands of people wrapped around the massive Germain Arena, which officials opened as a shelter Saturday and has a capacity of 7,000 to 8,000. At least six ambulances responded to people who were overcome in the muggy, 90-degree heat. Troopers, the National Guard and local police sought out people in wheelchairs and moved them to the front of the line, said Lt. Greg Bueno, public information officer for the Florida Highway Patrol.
"I feel like I'm in a sardine can, and I don't like it," Dianne said. "My husband said he'll duct-tape me to a chair if I try to open the front door."
Officials at the Collier County emergency operations center in Naples said 15,000 people have filled its shelters, but they are trying to expand space in each location to accommodate more. Demand exceeded expectations as the forecast showed the area probably taking the full force of Irma's impact.
The county said it will be difficult to house everyone who needs or wants to evacuate and urged people who can find shelter with friends or family to go there. Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said Saturday afternoon that the county is sheltering 22,000 people. The two counties combined have a population of about 1 million.
Officials also are concerned that wind gusts will send water over the Herbert Hoover Dike that holds back Lake Okeechobee, which covers more than 700 square miles. Evacuations have been ordered for cities and towns on the south side of the lake in Hendry, Palm Beach and Glades counties.
The storm already has heavily damaged some Caribbean islands, devastating Barbuda and tearing across Anguilla. Michael Joseph, president of the Red Cross in Antigua and Barbuda, said Barbuda is "uninhabitable" and in a "total blackout" with almost all of its infrastructure destroyed.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)