Irma shifting to the west, on track to hit St. Petersburg

- Hurricane Irma has regained Category 4 strength as it moves toward Florida, where it's feared to make a devastating hit.

Irma's maximum sustained winds increased early Sunday to near 130 mph (210 kph) and it's expected to gain a little more strength as it moves through the Straits of Florida and remain a powerful hurricane as it approaches Florida.

Irma is centered about 70 miles (115 kilometers) south-southeast of Key West, Florida, and is moving northwest near 6 mph (9 kph).

The National Hurricane Center says Irma's projected path is continuing to shift to the west, just a few crucial miles, that should keep its eye just off Florida's west coast on a track to hit St. Petersburg, not Miami or even Tampa.

The hurricane's leading edge was already lashing the Florida Keys with hurricane force winds. If the center of the storm keeps moving over warm Gulf of Mexico water, it may regain more strength before making landfall again.

St. Petersburg, like Tampa, has not taken a head-on blow from a major hurricane in nearly a century. Clearwater would be next, and then the storm would finally go inland northwest of Ocala.

As Irma's hurricane-force winds started to whip the Florida Keys, the storm stayed at a weakened 120 mph (190 kph) and took slow aim at Florida.

The National Hurricane Center says the storm's forward motion fell to 6 mph (10 kph) as the storm stuttered off the coast of Cuba. Forecasters say it could still increase in strength, but their forecast didn't show it.

The hurricane-force wind field stretched well over 100 miles. Forecasters say they are moving the forecast track slight west again.

More than 170,000 homes and businesses in Florida have lost power and the center of Irma is about 90 miles southeast of Key West.

Florida Power and Light said on its website that more than half of those outages were in the Miami-Dade area, where about 600,000 people have been ordered to evacuate.

The company has said it expects millions of people to lose power, with some areas experiences prolonged outages.

The company said it has assembled the largest pre-storm workforce in U.S. history, with more than 16,000 people ready to respond.

 

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