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Hurricane Irma has claimed her first victims on the US mainland as the eye of the superstorm slammed into Florida’s southern peninsula on Sunday.
The deadly storm strengthened into a category four hurricane as it crossed the sea from Cuba, after ripping through the Caribbean on a six-day rampage which left a trail of devastation in its wake.
Irma reached the lower Florida Keys on Sunday morning local time as the National Hurricane Centre warned the storm is expected to remain powerful as it moves along the state’s west coast.
One man was killed in a pickup truck crash caused by the weather, police said as authorities pleaded with the public to seek shelter.
Two other people have died in a seperate crash in Hardee County while an elderly man is said to have died from natural causes at a hurricane shelter in a school in the city of Marathon on the Keys, US media reported.
More than six million people were told to evacuate their homes and tens of thousands of people are currently holed up in shelters in anticipation for the destruction.
Forecasters warned tornadoes are also expected to continue sweeping through a large swathe of south Florida.
As Miami was lashed with rain and high winds, doctors were forced to give instructions to one pregnant woman over the phone as she delivered her baby herself at home.
Firefighters were unable to respond in time to the woman’s emergency call, but managed to rescue the new mum and her baby on Sunday morning.
Irma, which was at one point the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, made landfall with 130mph winds and life-threatening high seas shortly after 8am local time.
In an interview with ABC news as Florida braced itself for the storm, governor Rick Scott said: “Pray for us.”
More than half a million homes and businesses were already without power on Sunday morning.
The damage is likely to cost billions of dollars.
A fund set up by all five living former US presidents to help Hurricane Harvey victims, the One America Appeal, is already making preparations to send money to the crisis-hit area.
After its predicted journey changed, Irma is now forecast to follow a path along Florida’s western coast near Tampa and St Petersburg.
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