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Hurricane Irma closes in on Florida Keys

Hurricane Irma’s eyewall reached the lower Florida Keys Sunday as the deadly storm lashes the Sunshine State with menacing winds and pounding rain.

The storm’s eyewall was located about 15 miles southeast of Key West at 7 a.m., according to the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center, and its maximum sustained winds were measured at 130 mph.

Forecasters are monitoring a crucial shift in the storm’s trajectory that could keep its ferocious eye off the southwest Florida coast and over warm Gulf water. The shifted track puts St. Petersburg — not nearby Tampa or Miami — in line for a direct hit.

At 5 a.m., a frantic warning was issued to those braving the slow-moving monster storm.

“It is time to hunker down. The worst winds are yet to come,” NWS meteorologists wrote.

MANDATORY CREDIT; MIAMI OUT

Waves crash against the Southernmost Point in Key West on Saturday.

(Rob O’Neal/AP)

“Swaths of tornado-like damage” were reported throughout the Lower Keys, according to forecasters.

The storm has already been blamed for 22 deaths.

“The storm is here,” Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday. “This is a deadly storm, and our state has never seen anything like it.”

Dangerous storm surges are predicted to trail Irma.

Along Florida’s eastern coast, heavy rain began flooding streets in Boynton Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Fort Pierce, according to officials and reports.

The first wave of hurricane-force winds knocked out power for more than 420,000 homes in Miami Dade, Palm Beach and Broward counties, the Miami-Herald reported.

With News Wire Services

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hurricane irma

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