Hurricane Irma: Looters caught on camera stealing during storm

Brazen looters have been filmed making off with armfuls of goods via a smashed shopfront as millions of Americans bunker down to avoid the force of Hurricane Irma.

Police in Florida have arrested nine people who were caught on TV cameras looting sneakers and other goods from a sporting goods store and a pawn shop during Hurricane Irma.

Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione said the group was arrested on Sunday as the storm roared across south Florida. Maglione called the idea of stealing sneakers during a hurricane “a fairly bad life choice.”

Local TV images showed the alleged looters running in and out of a store through a broken window carrying boxes of sneakers. It was one of several videos of thieves taking advantage of the disaster to appear in the media and on social media.

US TV station WPLG broadcast images of a group of people making off with loot at Fort Lauderdale in Florida. Photo: WLPG via AP

It wasn’t immediately clear what charges those arrested would face. Their identities also were not immediately released.

Monster Hurricane Irma has roared into Florida with 209 kph winds for what appears be a sustained assault on nearly the entire Sunshine State, submerging streets, knocking out power to millions and snapping massive construction cranes over the Miami skyline.

The 640-kilometre-wide storm blew ashore in the mostly cleared-out Florida Keys and then began a slow march up the state's west coast.

Forecasters said it could hit the heavily populated Tampa-St Petersburg area early on Monday local time.

"Pray, pray for everybody in Florida," Governor Rick Scott said on Fox News Sunday as some 116,000 people statewide waited it out in shelters.

Irma struck as a Category 4 but by late afternoon had weakened to a Category 2 with 177 kph winds that whipped Florida's palm trees with drenching squalls. A storm surge of over three metres was recorded in the Keys, and forecasters warned some places on the mainland could get up to over four metres of water.

There were no immediate confirmed reports of any deaths in Florida, on top of the at least 24 people killed during Irma's destructive trek across the Caribbean.

Nine have been arrested over the thefts. Photo: WLPG via AP

Many streets were flooded in downtown Miami and other cities. Appliances and furniture were seen floating away in the low-lying Keys, though the full extent of Irma's fury there was not clear.

An apparent tornado spun off by Irma destroyed six mobile homes in Palm Bay, hundreds of kilometres away along the state's Atlantic coast. Flooding was reported along Interstate 4, which cuts across Florida's midsection.

In downtown Miami, two of the two dozen construction cranes looming over the skyline collapsed in the wind. No injuries were reported. City officials said it would have taken about two weeks to move the massive equipment.

A pair of cyclists brave the elements as Irma's winds bend Fort Lauderdale's palm trees. Photo: AP

Curfews were imposed in Miami, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and much of the rest of South Florida, and some arrests of violators were reported. Miami Beach barred outsiders from the island.

More than two million homes and businesses across the state lost power.

While the projected track showed Irma raking the state's Gulf Coast, forecasters warned that the entire state - including the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people - was in danger because of the sheer size of the storm.

Nearly 7 million people in the Southeast were warned to evacuate, including 6.4 million in Florida alone.

About 30,000 people heeded orders to leave the Keys as the storm closed in, but an untold number refused, in part because to many storm-hardened residents, staying behind in the face of danger is a point of pride.

- With AP and AAP