Tornadoes could also spin up in coastal areas from northeast Georgia to southeast South Carolina where a tornado watch was in effect.
"Do not venture outside when the calm eye of the hurricane passes over, as dangerous winds will return very quickly when the eye moves away", forecasters wrote.
Much of the Tampa area, whose population is about four million, is built right on the water (as you can see on the below map). Some models have the storm crossing the line between Lake and Orange counties, slightly west of Orlando, before its expected turn back through Marion County and the city of Ocala.
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"The Sarasota area could begin feeling tropical storm force winds in the next few hours".
"This is a life-threatening situation", the hurricane center posted.
The weather began deteriorating in the Florida Keys late Saturday and in other parts of southern Florida, the National Hurricane Center said.
The meteorologists added that the hurricane was likely to bring heavy rains, which would cause flooding in the most parts of Florida. The lower the central pressure of the storm, the stronger it is. "Winds reach hurricane strength later this evening and overnight", said Spann. It bulldozed the U.S. Virgin Islands, ripping roofs off houses in St. Barts and flooding St. Martin.
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After a week of developing into a monster storm - the likes of which are rarely seen in the Atlantic basin - Hurricane Irma is finally about to make a turn toward the U.S. mainland, with Florida firmly in its sights. "By the time the storm clears, some people will have been out for a day, and we haven't even been able to roll a truck".
Mar-a-Lago closed as Irma approached the state, and guests at his Doral hotel were being advised to make lodging arrangements elsewhere as the storm approached.
Through Monday morning, widespread rainfall totals of 6 to 10 inches were reported over the Florida peninsula, with pockets of 10 to 15 inch totals.
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A tropical storm warning was issued for the first time ever in Atlanta, and school was cancelled in communities around the state. The surge in Charleston came from the Atlantic Ocean, and forecasters predicted that the water would push about a mile inland.
Three planes were on their way to deliver crucial supplies to the region, he said, while the UK will be sending military operation to Anguilla, one of the first islands to be hit by Irma and receive aid, as soon as possible to ensure it "does not now slip behind".
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