Hurricane Irma hits the Caribbean and Florida
Miami (AFP) - While southwest Florida bore the deadly brunt of Irma's wrath Sunday, the coastlines of Miami and the neighboring island of Miami Beach were heavily inundated by storm surges as hurricane winds sent two giant construction cranes crashing down.
The hurricane, which weakened to a Category Two as it headed north along the east coast of Florida toward the city of Naples packing winds of 110 miles (177 kilometers) an hour, killed three people when it struck the southern Keys island chain as a more powerful Category Four.
Miami had been preparing for a direct impact before Irma turned and headed west, but was still hit by the outer bands of wind at 90 miles (145 kilometers) an hour and some spontaneous tornadoes.
Photos posted on social media showed a giant crane had struck the roof of a building in an area where skyscrapers overlooking the ocean are constantly coming up.
A Miami resident who took refuge in the glitzy Brickell neighborhood said he had seen a second crane collapse as the area flooded.
Authorities said the situation was serious.
Miami, lined with glittering skyscrapers, has about 25 cranes on construction sites of 50 floors or higher, city manager Daniel Alfonso said, "so the cranes are about 800 feet (243 meters) high."
Since it became clear that Irma was Florida-bound, authorities have urged residents to obey evacuation orders and to not take refuge in buildings near the cranes.
The mega-structures are designed to withstand hurricanes with winds of 233 kilometers (145 miles) per hour.
"It can be very destructive. The arm of a crane is loose and its counterweight weighs from 8,000 to 10,000 pounds (3,600 to 4,500 kilograms) -- if one falls, it can cause a lot of damage," added Alfonso.
- Spared the worst -
Television images showed that the sea had swallowed the coastal walkway of Brickell Avenue in the center of Miami, flooding the streets and leaving cars half-submerged.
The area is flooded "from the storm surge that is coming over the sea walls," said Steven Schlacknam, a 51-year-old visual artist who decided to ride out the storm from his 37th floor apartment. "The wooden pier is basically gone."
Residents of Miami Beach, a resort island off Miami that is normally buzzing with bars, restaurants and thousands of tourists, had prepared for an apocalyptic event, but were grateful Sunday they had been spared the worst.
"It's a show but not a catastrophic event," said Roberto Cuneo, an Italian living in Miami Beach who decided not to flee.
"We are experiencing some room damage and got a little leak from one of my seven windows," the 41-year-old realtor said.
He added that the neighboring commercial boulevard of Lincoln Road, a tourist epicenter, was flooded with about a foot (30 centimeters) of water.
Elmer Gomez, a 30-year-old Guatemalan barista who refused to evacuate, said the gusts had cracked walls and windows.
"There are four of us here, spending time sleeping and playing cards," he said, speaking from his third-floor apartment.
Irma made its second Florida landfall on Sunday afternoon, hitting Marco Island near the popular shopping and golf destination of Naples as President Donald Trump approved the state's request for emergency federal aid.