WASHINGTON, Sept 10 (KUNA) -- Hurricane Irma, the 'most catastrophic storm' ever in the Atlanta made landfall in Florida Sunday, leaving a million homes without electricity and prompting the state's top official to urge 'pray for us'.
More than a million homes have lost power across South Florida resulting from Hurricane-force winds across the mainland, according to Florida Power and Light utility company.
The American Red Cross's spokesman Craig Cooper reported as many as 240,000 people have sought refuge overnight in hundreds of hurricane shelters across the state.
Nearly 6.5 million people, a third of the state, were ordered to evacuate ahead of the storm. Thousands more were ordered to leave in Georgia and South Carolina. In all, 36 million people across the region are under hurricane watch.
"Pray, pray for everybody in Florida," Governor Rick Scott said on "Fox News Sunday."
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported the eye of Irma had finally reached Florida Keys as expected.
The storm was upgraded overnight to a Category four on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind scale, with maximum sustained winds reaching 130 miles per hour and wind gusts up to 160miles per hour.
It is a staggering 400 miles wide, significantly larger and more powerful than Hurricane Andrew which devastated Florida's southern coast in 1992.
Experts warn the greatest threat posed is storm surge, gradual rises in water level cause by the storm's winds as it approaches the shore.
Ray Rappaport, Acting Director of the NHC, confirmed to CNN early Sunday that Florida can expect storm surges along the entire west coast, including 15-foot storm surges in parts of the coast.
The combination of dangerous storm surge, rising ocean tide and torrential rain of up to 25 inches is expected to cause severe flooding.
"Take action now to protect your life," the NHC advised. "This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation."
A tornado watch is also in effect across the area, with two twisters already reported in South Florida.
Irma is expected to pick up speed over the next 24 hours as it moves up Florida's west coast, and then pivot inland over the northern part of the state and into northwest Georgia by Monday afternoon, according to the NHC.
The storm left a trail of devastation in the Caribbean, with 25 confirmed dead, including 11 people on French St Martin and St Barts, four in the US Virgin Islands, three on Puerto Rico, two on Dutch St Maarten, one person in Anguilla and a two-year-old in Barbuda.
The Pentagon has reportedly shifted operations out of its Miami-based U.S. Southern Command (Southcom) to a subsidiary over 2,200 miles away in Arizona 12 hours before the storm's landfall.
The military outpost oversees operations in Latin America and the Caribbean, Army Colonel Lisa Garcia told the Miami Herald a small team was taking over Southcom watch responsibility at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon.
Over 10,000 flights were halted Sunday at more than a dozen airports including Miami, Orlando and Tampa, some of the nation's busiest airports.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose, a Category four hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 130 miles per hour, was expected to gradually weaken over the next 48 hours as it turns away from outer Caribbean Islands northward towards the open Atlantic. (end)