ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — As Hurricane Irma buzz-sawed its way up Florida's Gulf Coast, it looked for several hours like the heavily populated Tampa Bay area could face catastrophic wind damage and flooding from the first major storm to roar ashore there in 96 years.

There was good reason to worry. Since 1921, when about 120,000 people lived there, the region has added three million residents and tens of thousands of new homes along low-lying waterfront property.

The storm left Tampa and St. Petersburg with only power outages and downed tree limbs. But many are wondering: Was Irma merely a dress rehearsal for The Big One?

Studies have shown the Tampa region is among the world's most vulnerable when it comes to major storms, yet it has failed to take some key precautions.