By TAMARA LUSH and JAY REEVES, Associated Press
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. >> Announcing itself with roaring 130 mph winds, Hurricane Irma plowed into the mostly emptied-out Florida Keys early Sunday for the start of what could be a slow, ruinous march up the state’s west coast toward the heavily populated Tampa-St. Petersburg area.
“Pray, pray for everybody in Florida,” Gov. Rick Scott said on “Fox News Sunday.”
With an estimated 127,000 huddling in shelters statewide, the storm lashed the low-lying string of islands with drenching rain and knocked out power to over 1 million customers across Florida.
About 30,000 people heeded orders to evacuate the Keys as the storm closed in, but an untold number refused to leave, in part because to many storm-hardened residents, staying behind in the face of danger is a point of pride.
While the projected track showed Irma raking the state’s Gulf Coast, forecasters warned that the entire Florida peninsula — including the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people — was in extreme peril from the monstrous storm, almost 400 miles wide.
Nearly 7 million people in the Southeast were warned to get out of the storm’s path, including 6.4 million in Florida alone.
The Republican governor said on NBC that he spoke to President Donald Trump, and “everything I’ve asked out of the federal government, he’s made sure he gave us.”
Once the storm passes, “we’re going to need a lot of help,” Scott warned. But he also described Florida as “a tough state. We’re going to come through this.”
Irma made landfall in the U.S. just after 9 a.m. at Cudjoe Key in the lower Keys, forecasters said. By midmorning, it was centered about 20 miles (30 kilometers) northeast of Key West, moving at 8 mph (13 kph).
As the hurricane’s eye approached the Keys, 60-year-old Carol Walterson Stroud and her family were huddled in a third-floor apartment at a senior center in Key West.
“We are good so far,” she said in a text message just before 5:30 a.m. “It’s blowing hard.”
Key West Police urged anyone riding out the storm in that city to “resist the urge” to go outside during the eye, the deceptively calm interlude in the middle of a hurricane. “Dangerous winds will follow quickly,” police said in a Facebook post.
Irma was at one time the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, with a peak wind speed of 185 mph (300 kph) last week.
It left more than 20 people dead across the…