Hurricane Katrina churned through Florida’s densely populated south-eastern coast today with sustained 80mph winds and lashing rain.
Two people were killed by falling trees.
The storm strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane yesterday just before it made landfall along the Miami-Dade and Broward county line between Hallandale Beach and North Miami Beach. Weather experts said flooding was the main concern as the storm dropped 10ins of rain in Key Biscayne.
Rain fell in horizontal sheets, seas were estimated at 15ft and wind gusted to 92mph, toppling trees and street signs. Florida Power & Light said more than a million customers were without electricity.
A flyover under construction in Miami-Dade County collapsed on to a highway, authorities said. No injuries were immediately reported.
Earlier, Katrina was centred in north-west Miami-Dade County, heading west at 6mph. An estimated 5.9 million Florida residents were in Katrina’s projected path.
The storm proved fatal for two people who ignored warnings to stay inside until the worst was over. A man in his 20s in Fort Lauderdale was crushed by a falling tree as he sat alone in his car, while a pedestrian was killed by a falling tree in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Plantation.
“The message needs to be very clear. It’s not a good night to be out driving around,” National Hurricane Centre director May Mayfield.
“The back side of the core of the hurricane has yet to come. It’s not over yet.”
The usually bustling streets of Miami Beach, a tourist haven, were largely deserted as the storm pounded the area. The city is hosting celebrities and partygoers in town for the MTV Video Music Awards.
MTV called off its pre-awards festivities for yesterday and today.
“It’s like a ghost town out here,” said Mark Darress, concierge at The Astor Hotel in Miami Beach. “I see the random, not-so-smart people, riding scooters every now and then.”
Tourists and others hoping to get out of town before the storm were stranded as airlines cancelled flights at Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports, which both closed early today.
Before the hurricane struck, Floridians wary of Katrina prepared by putting up shutters, stacking sandbags in doorways and stocking up on supplies.
Governor Jeb Bush urged residents to prepare because Katrina was expected to bring “tremendous rain” to Florida. “In essence, this is a very dangerous storm. It’s important to take this seriously,” Bush said.
The hurricane forced MTV to cancel or postpone some of the performances leading up to its award show, including festivities celebrating the release of Ricky Martin’s new album. The show itself, planned for Sunday in Miami Beach, is not expected to be affected.
Category 1 storms have maximum sustained winds of 74 to 95mph and wind damage to secured structures is usually minimal. Weather officials said Katrina was mostly a rain event, with flooding the main concern.
Katrina is the second hurricane to hit the state this year – Dennis hit the Panhandle last month – and the sixth since August 13, 2004. Katrina formed over the Bahamas and was expected to cross Florida before heading into the Gulf of Mexico.