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Flamingos at Busch Gardens take shelter before Irma hits

Hurricane Irma's powerful center crossed the Florida Keys and tore into the state's Gulf Coast, downing trees, hurling street signs and debris, and knocking the power out to hundreds of thousands of residents throughout the state.

The National Hurricane Center said Irma is expected to remain powerful as it heads north along the state's Gulf Coast.

This is the scene in Florida as Irma blasts the state with torrential winds and rain.

Miami

CNN's Derek Van Dam, reporting from Miami Beach, said the roaring winds felt like a jet engine. "It just stings every time one of these gusts comes through."

"Anyone who didn't heed the evacuation orders here in Miami Beach, it's time to bunker down," Van Dam said. "It is time to take this storm seriously. Do not come back to the evacuation zones. It has just begun, and it's going to get worse."

Irma hit South Florida on Sunday with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The Florida Keys

"If you own a power washer ... imagine taking it in the face," said CNN's Bill Weir of the torrential rain in Key Largo, some 70 miles south of Miami.

A Key Largo restaurant and bar called Snappers -- where Weir had interviewed people on Thursday as the storm was still days away -- is now "completely gone," Weir said.

Brad Whitworth of Texas is riding the storm out in Tavernier, Florida, just south of Key Largo. He told CNN he has homes there and in Houston, which was hit by heavy flooding from Hurricane Harvey two weeks ago.