Irma: ‘Imminent danger of life-threatening’ storm surges up to 15 feet

MIAMI — Hurricane Irma bludgeoned Florida on Sunday, snapping trees like matchsticks and turning Miami streets into rivers.

And there’s plenty more damage to come.

Naples and Marco Island will endure some of the strongest winds in the next few hours, the National Hurricane Center said.

Irma, now a Category 3 hurricane, is bringing 120 mph winds as it hugs the southwest Florida coast.

Even more dangerous than the powerful winds could be the storm surges that threaten to swallow Florida’s coastal cities.

“The threat of catastrophic storm surge flooding is highest along the southwest coast of Florida, where 10 to 15 feet of inundation above ground level is expected,” the hurricane center said. “This is a life-threatening situation.”

Still, not everyone heeded orders to evacuate coastal Florida.

Wayne Ploghoft is hunkered down on the third floor of a building on Marco Island — where catastrophic storm surges are imminent.

Ploghoft said he wasn’t able to evacuate because his flight plans didn’t work out. Now Ploghoft and three others are holed up with stockpiles of water, canned food and battery power.

“We’re all going to be OK,” Ploghoft said.

Gov. Rick Scott said Irma’s wrath is unprecedented.

“We have never had anything like this before,” he said.

In Florida and southern Georgia, more than 8 million people face hurricane-force winds topping 74 mph, said Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Analytics.

And almost the entire state of Florida is under a hurricane warning, affecting at least 36 million people.

Gusts topping 90 mph whipped Miami, knocking out power to more than 750,000 customers in the Miami-Dade area.

Flying objects such as coconuts turned into dangerous projectiles. And at least one construction crane snapped, swinging vigorously over downtown Miami.

Matthew Spuler captured video of waves crashing over a seawall toward his downtown high-rise building.

“There is no seawall whatsoever,” Spuler said. “It’s amazing. It’s underwater.”

Miami experienced heavy wind, rain and flooding that was reportedly several feet deep in the Brickell area.

Still, not everyone heeded orders to evacuate coastal Florida.

“It’s going from crappy to worse,” said John Hines, who did not evacuate and stayed in his home in Key West. “All the interior doors are starting to rattle now, sounds like someone is knocking on the front door.”

Almost the entire state of Florida is under a hurricane warning affecting at least 36 million people, with concerns of catastrophic gales, torrential rain rain and deadly storm surges.

Those who did not evacuate ahead of the storm are in danger, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said Saturday.

“You’re on your own until we can actually get in there and it’s safe,” he said.

Miami is also taking a beating from Irma. Ferocious winds knocked out power to more than 650,000 customers in the Miami-Dade area, and at least one construction crane snapped.

Rick Scott warned some storm surges could be deadly.

“You can’t survive these storm surges,” the governor said.

Key West business owner Jason Jonas said he stayed behind because he’s in a home that is “built like a bunker.”

“It’s pretty much the only reason I considered staying here because I knew that I had a pretty good chance of making it through this thing,” he said.

“We’re 30-plus feet above sea level and in a place that’s built to withstand 225 mph winds — I mean that’s a better chance than being exposed out on the highway in traffic trying to make it to Georgia,” he said.

Mass evacuations sent throngs onto jammed highways heading north and created a severe gas shortage in some parts the state.

Irma hit Cuba’s Ciego de Avila province late Friday as a Category 5 hurricane before it weakened and headed to the U.S.

This is the the first year on record that the continental U.S. has had two Category 4 hurricane landfalls in the same year.

Last month, Hurricane Harvey devastated much of coastal Texas and killed more than 70 people.