Deadly Irma slams into Florida

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At least one dead, a million homes and businesses without power as hurricane reaches US state

MIAMI/FORT MYERS, FLORIDA: Packing 210kmh winds, Hurricane Irma knocked out electricity to more than one million Florida homes and businesses yesterday and threatened the state's Gulf Coast with potentially catastrophic flooding.

The storm, one of the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic, passed over the Florida Keys archipelago off the state's southern tip.

It was on course for the state's western coast, which was expecting storm surges - water driven ashore by the winds - of up to 4.6m, according to the National Hurricane Centre. The coastline is home to cities such as Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Irma, which prompted one of the largest evacuations in US history, is expected to cause billions of dollars in damage to the third-most-populous US state - a major tourism hub with an economy comprising about 5 per cent of the US' gross domestic product.

About 1.1 million Florida homes and businesses had lost power by mid-morning as the storm pummelled the southern part of the state, utility Florida Power & Light said.

Irma, which killed at least 22 people as it tore through the Caribbean islands towards Florida, has already claimed at least one life in the state.

Emergency responders in the Florida Keys said they pulled a man's body from his pickup truck, which had crashed into a tree in high winds.

The storm winds downed trees and signs and shook buildings in Miami, which was at the time160km from Irma's core.

One woman in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood delivered her own baby, with medical personnel coaching her on the phone because emergency responders were not able to reach her, the city of Miami said.

Ahead of the storm, officials in Florida had ordered a total of 6.3 million people, or about a third of the state's population, to evacuate.

The Hurricane Centre has put out a hurricane warning and a tropical storm warning stretching through almost all of Florida into Georgia and South Carolina, home to more than 20 million people.- REUTERS

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