Hurricane Irma track, models, satellite; storm updates

Monster storm remains on path toward Florida

Headline Goes Here NOAA/NASA

GOES-16 satellite image taken Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, at 11:45 UTC, sunlight, from the right, illuminates Hurricane Irma as the storm approaches Cuba and Florida.

Check out satellite imagery, computer models and the official track of Hurricane Irma in the video player above.

Here's the latest information about Hurricane Irma and the tropics:

FRIDAY

11:10 p.m.

The National Hurricane Center says Irma has strengthened back into a Category 5 storm. Forecasters also extended hurricane and storm surge warnings and watches farther north in Florida.

The center says Irma made landfall on the Camaguey Archipelago of Cuba late Friday and has maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph).

The hurricane is about 300 miles (485 kilometers) from Miami and moving about 13 mph (20 kph) toward the west.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia is making landfall north of Tecolutla, Mexico. Katia is still a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 75 mph (120 kph). Forecasters expect the hurricane to weaken quickly over the next 24 hours.

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose has almost hit Category 5 strength, with tops winds of 155 mph (250 kph). Jose is about 265 miles (430 kilometers) east-southeast of the northern Leeward Islands.

8:15 p.m.

South Carolina's governor has ordered the evacuation of seven barrier islands, including Hilton Head Island, because they could be inundated by Hurricane Irma.

Gov. Henry McMaster said Friday that 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) of storm surge is possible on the islands in the southern part of the state even though the center of Irma is forecast to move 200 miles to the west.

With about 40,000 residents, Hilton Head Island is by far the largest island evacuated. It also has a number of resorts, golf courses and hotels.

South Carolina Adjutant General Robert Livingston estimates 20,000 people have already left Hilton Head Island.

Edisto Beach is also being evacuated, along with Harbor, Hunting, Fripp, Daufuskie, Tullifini and Knowles islands.

McMaster says a change in Irma's track back east might require more evacuations.

8:05 p.m.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has issued a state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Irma.

The remnants of the deadly hurricane are currently projected to sweep into Alabama and Georgia by Monday morning, bringing strong winds and rain.

The governor said even though it appears Alabama will escape the brunt of the storm, the state will certainly be affected by the tropical system.

"We must be ready to respond, no matter what comes our way," Ivey said.

Under the projected track released Friday, the tropical system is expected to sweep into Alabama Monday morning bringing sustained winds of up to 30 mph, with higher gusts in the eastern part of the state.

Alabama Emergency Management Agency meteorologist Jim Stefkovich says the greater inland threat for severe weather is in Georgia, but emphasized that could shift.

8:05 p.m.

A handwritten sign on the door of an Orlando Home Depot reads "sorry, out of plywood" — a nearly universal problem at stores across the city as residents scrambled to collect supplies, board up their houses and wait out the storm.

Victor Hernandez wandered through the lumber racks just before closing time Friday evening, trying to think up a makeshift solution to protect two big windows at the front of his house.

Hernandez thinks people might be overreacting in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, which sat over that city for days, dumping rain and causing rushing floods. He doesn't believe this storm, moving more quickly, will be so devastating.

"I'm from Cuba, we're used to hurricanes. I grew up ready for storms," said Hernandez, who's lived in Orlando seven years and works as a real estate agent and valet driver.

 

After his wood run, Hernandez had two more stops to make: Wal-Mart, for some board games, then the liquor store, for a bottle of rum.

7:10 p.m.

Florida has asked 5.6 million people to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma, or more than one quarter of the state's population, according to state emergency officials.

Andrew Sussman, the state's hurricane program manager, said Friday the total includes people throughout the southern half of the state as well as those living in inland Florida in substandard housing who were also told leave due to the dangerous storm that will slam the state this weekend.

Florida is the nation's third-largest state with nearly 21 million people according to the U.S. Census.

For days Gov. Rick Scott has been urging residents to evacuate, especially those who live in coastal areas that could be flooded due to the walls of water expected from Irma's arrival.

6:45 p.m.

The National Hurricane Center is warning Floridians that even if the storm seems to moving away from the East Coast in the latest tracks, don't get complacent.

"This is a storm that will kill you if you don't get out of the way," said National Hurricane Center meteorologist and spokesman Dennis Feltgen.

Feltgen says the storm has a really wide eye, with hurricane-force winds that cover the entire Florida peninsula and potentially deadly storm surges on both coasts.

"Everybody's going to feel this one," Feltgen said.

 6:45 p.m.

As Florida deals with a catastrophic, dangerous hurricane, it may have a financial storm to deal with.

The annual budget forecast released this week shows, despite an ongoing economic recovery, Florida is expected to bring in just enough money to meet its spending needs.

That forecast shows the state will have a surplus of just $52 million during the fiscal year that starts in July 2018. The new estimate does not take into account the potential effects that will come from Hurricane Irma.

In the past some have speculated hurricanes help the economy because of increased spending. But Amy Baker, the state economist whose office helps put together the forecast, says a look at previous hurricanes showed that the state wound up spending more as a result of the disaster.

6:15 p.m.

Hurricane Irma's predicted path continues to inch west as the massive storm, still armed with 155 mph winds, approaches Florida.

The National Hurricane Center's latest track brings the Category 4 hurricane into southwest Florida, up the state a tad west of the center region, and further east than earlier forecasts.

However, the margin of error is still large enough that the entire state may get Irma's powerful core. Taking into account Irma's 100-mile-wide hurricane-force winds, University of Miami researcher Brian McNoldy says most of the state will feel Irma's wrath.

McNoldy says the storm will be "less costly (and) less deadly" on the state's west coast, in comparison to Florida's east coast, where there are more people.

Forecasters keep moving Irma's projected track a bit west because its long-anticipated turn north keeps getting pushed back. McNoldy says forecasters had expected a high-pressure system to weaken further north, allowing Irma to make the turn, but it is not weakening as fast as originally forecast.

5:50 p.m.

Agricultural charity organization Heifer International said heavy rain and floodwaters from Hurricane Irma has devastated bean and corn crops and pasture land in northern Haiti.

Hurricane Irma skirted the northwestern coast of the impoverished Caribbean country. There were no immediate reports of any deaths.

In a statement, Heifer country director Hervil Cherubin says local farmers that the organization works with were able to protect their goats and other livestock thanks to preparations ahead of time.

Cherubin warned that the flooded pasture land is expected to cause a shortage of forage in the coming months. That and the crop loss will mean that farmers will likely require assistance in the coming months.

5:50 p.m.

When Alix Agudelo heard Hurricane Irma was barreling toward Orlando, her mind turned to the images she recalled from Hurricane Harvey: people stranded on rooftops as the floodwaters raged around them, clinging to tree branches, wading through neck-deep, rushing water.

She bought three life jackets, just in case, one for herself, one for her 10-year-old daughter, and one for her fiance, Gia Rodriguez. They plan to hunker down in their house, with a little dog named Picasso.

Agudelo's daughter Alix Balcazar shoveled sand into bags as a city distribution center late Friday afternoon.

"I'm not scared," the girl declared, and her mother smiled.

"We don't want her to know much," she whispered. "We pretend to be calm for the little one. She shouldn't have to feel fear."

5:25 p.m.

Researchers calculated that Friday has had the most hurricane activity in the history of the Atlantic region.

Scientists use a measurement called Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) to give a good snapshot of hurricane activity because it combines storms' wind speeds and how long they spin at such speeds.

With Irma and Jose Category 4 storms and Katia knocking on the door Category 3, Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach calculated that the entire day -- based on universal time -- Friday had an ACE of 16. That beat out the region's record of 14.3 set on Sept. 11, 1961. Thursday now ranks third for ACE with 14.2 and Wednesday ranks fourth at 14.1.

"I can't keep up with all the records," says Klotzbach, who keeps numerous hurricane records.

5:15 p.m.

Hurricane Irma has caused extensive flooding and damaged many homes in the Turks and Caicos Islands southeast of the Bahamas.

Minister of Instructure Gold Ray Ewing says damage on the most populated island of Providenciales will total at least half a billion dollars.

He says no one has yet been able to assess damage on Grand Turk and South Caicos islands.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Ewing said that a community known as Blue Hill on the northwestern side of Providenciales is "gone" and that homes have been destroyed across the island.

The Disaster Management Agency says it has no reports yet of any deaths in the British territory.

Flooding is widespread and power is out throughout the island chain. There are many downed trees and utility poles, making some roads impassable.

The storm passed near uninhabited West Caicos on Friday afternoon as it headed toward Florida.

5:15 p.m.

Emergency officials in Georgia are ordering the state's coastal residents to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma. But where should they go?

The storm's unpredictable path beyond Florida is making that a tough question to answer. A westward shift in the storm forecast Friday put Irma's potential path in the same direction many coastal evacuees had been told to flee.

On Thursday, when the forecast showed Irma coming up the coastline, Chatham County emergency management director Dennis Jones had told people in Savannah to "just move west."

Jones was asked again Friday where residents should head after the National Hurricane Center moved its predicted storm track far inland into southern central Georgia.

Jones' reply: "Honestly, I can't tell you where safe is."

5 p.m.

The U.S. Navy says four ships are ready to assist with Hurricane Irma relief.

The U.S. Navy Fleet Forces Command said in a statement Friday that Adm. Phil Davidson ordered the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, the transport dock ship USS New York and the assault ship USS Iwo Jima to be in position to provide humanitarian relief if requested.

The statement says the destroyer USS Farragut is already "conducting local operations" and has been ordered to join the group.

The ships are capable of providing medical support, maritime security and logistical support.

Irma, which was churning along Cuba's northern coast Friday afternoon, is expected to hit Florida early Sunday morning.

5 p.m.

Miami Beach resident George Neary was on one of the last flights out of Miami International Airport before it closed in preparation for Hurricane Irma.

The American Airlines flight left for New York around noon Friday.

"Everyone cheered when we got the OK to take off," Neary said. "It was kind of emotional for a lot of us. We didn't know until it finally left if it was actually going to leave."

Neary says the checking-in and boarding processes were well organized Friday morning.

Neary was planning to attend a business convention in New York and had booked his flight long before a hurricane was forecast to hit Florida. Still, he considered staying.

"I thought about canceling my flight and staying, but I wouldn't be in my condo anyway," Neary said. "I might as well watch it from New York with my fingers crossed."

4:45 p.m.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has declared a state of emergency in Virginia so officials can better prepare for Hurricane Irma and help other affected states.

The governor's office said in a statement that the order issued Friday allows the state to mobilize resources including the Virginia National Guard. It also allows people and equipment to be staged to assist in storm response and recovery efforts.

The statement says that while the track of Hurricane Irma is still uncertain, it appears increasingly likely that Virginia will see "significant" impacts. It says the whole state should prepare for possible flooding, high winds and storm surge.

The governor is also urging coastal residents to know what hurricane evacuation zone they live in under the state's new plan unveiled earlier this year. A tool to look up that information is available online.

4:45 p.m.

Dozens of people swarmed like ants Friday filling up white bags with free sand from a huge pile dumped at the Flagler County Airport in Palm Coast, Florida, as they prepared for Hurricane Irma.

Sheriff's deputies watched as four minimum-security county prisoners helped carry bags to residents' cars and trucks.

Daniel Nobles needed the assistance, wincing visibly as he scoped sand into a bag.

"It's a struggle. I have a torn muscle that goes all the way from my chest down to my ribs, and just bending over doing this is a lot of stress," said Nobles, 27. "But I have to protect my property."

Palm Coast is located about 70 miles (113 kilometers) south of Jacksonville.

4:30 p.m.

The operator of two nuclear power plants in Florida says the plants will be shut down well before Hurricane Irma makes landfall.

Florida Power and Light President Eric Silagy said Friday that the company will shut the Turkey Point and St. Lucie plants down 24 hours before the onset of hurricane-level winds. Turkey Point is located south of Miami in Homestead. St. Lucie is on the state's east coast.

Silagy says the two plants are among the strongest structures in the world and are encased in a 6-foot-thick (1.8 meters) cement structure reinforced by steel. The plants also have multiple safety systems and are elevated about 20 feet (6.1 meters) above sea level to protect against flooding and extreme storm surges.

Turkey Point took a direct hit from Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Silagy said officials "will not take any chances, and those plants will be secure."

4:20 p.m.

The death toll from Hurricane Irma has risen to 22 as the storm continues its destructive path through the Caribbean.

The dead include 11 on St. Martin and St. Barts, four in the U.S. Virgin Islands and four in the British Virgin Islands. There was also one each in Barbuda, Anguilla, and Barbados.

The toll is expected to rise as rescuers reach some of the hardest-hit areas.

Irma weakened from a Category 5 to a still-fearsome Category 4 on Friday morning with winds of 155 mph (250 kph) as it churns along Cuba's northern coast.

4:15 p.m.

Uncertainty over the path of Hurricane Irma has prompted Georgia's governor to expand a pre-emptive emergency declaration to cover more than half of the state.

By Friday afternoon, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal had declared a state of emergency for 94 of Georgia's 159 counties. The National Weather Service predicts Irma's center will cross the state line Monday as the storm churns northward from Florida. But it could arrive anywhere from the coast near Savannah to inland communities near the Georgia-Alabama line.

Evacuations have been ordered only for six counties directly on the Georgia coast, affecting nearly 540,000 people.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump signed an emergency declaration Friday authorizing federal disaster aid for 30 southeast Georgia counties bracing for possible destruction from Irma.

4:05 p.m.

The Palm Beach Post newspaper is evacuating its building in Palm Beach County, Florida, due to Hurricane Irma.

Publisher Timothy Burke informed the staff in a memo on Thursday night. In the memo, Burke acknowledged that some employees had arranged to have their families stay at the building while they worked.

In a Friday email, Burke said the decision was made to allow employees to evacuate to "safer locations." He says the Post building may not be able to withstand a storm above a Category 2 hurricane. Burke says the organization had been helping staff and their families find accommodations.

In his memo, Burke told the staff the media organization would return to its building "as soon as possible."

3:55 p.m.

The Homeland Security Department is temporarily waiving federal restrictions on foreign ships' transportation of cargo in order to help distribute fuel to states and territories affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

In a statement Friday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said, "This is a precautionary measure to ensure we have enough fuel to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure." The seven-day waiver specifically affects shipments of refined products, such as gasoline, in hurricane-affected areas.

The Jones Act prohibits such shipments between U.S. points aboard foreign vessels. The last such waiver was in December 2012, for petroleum products delivered after Hurricane Sandy.

3:45 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is warning that residents in South Florida only have hours left to evacuate.

Scott on Friday told residents from seven counties that they should leave by midnight or should not get on the road.

"If you are planning to leave and do not leave tonight, you will have to ride out this extremely dangerous storm at your own risk," Scott said.

Hurricane Irma is expected to rip into the state over the weekend. The looming threat of the dangerous storm has triggered a massive evacuation. Those trying to flee have encountered traffic jams and there have been fuel shortages, especially in south Florida.

Scott has urged Floridians for days to heed evacuation orders, but he has also told residents they don't need to leave the region, but instead to seek out nearby shelters.

3:35 p.m.

President Donald Trump says the U.S. is "prepared at the highest level" to deal with Hurricane Irma.

Trump spoke briefly to reporters Friday before boarding Marine One to travel to Camp David for the weekend. He told reporters, "Hopefully everything will go well."

After struggling to hear the shouted questions from reporters, he says that while the storm is "a really bad one," the U.S. is prepared for the dangerous major hurricane heading toward Florida.

Trump received a briefing on Irma earlier in the day. He is spending the weekend at the government-owned mountain retreat in Maryland where he'll monitor the storm and hold a Cabinet meeting on Saturday.

3:25 p.m.

Florida's major theme parks are planning to close as Hurricane Irma approaches the state.

Officials at Walt Disney World in Orlando announced Friday afternoon that its parks will close on Saturday and remain closed through Monday.

Universal Orlando announced on its website that it will close at 7 p.m. Saturday and will remain closed through Monday. Officials said they anticipate reopening on Tuesday.

SeaWorld in Orlando and Busch Gardens, which is in Tampa, also announced plans to shut down at 5 p.m. Saturday and remain closed through Monday.

Last October, the theme parks also closed down for Hurricane Matthew, which skirted Florida's southeast coast.

3:10 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is urging residents along the state's Gulf Coast to get out of evacuation zones as Hurricane Irma's path has moved slightly west.

During a news conference on Friday afternoon in Lee County in southwest Florida, Scott warned of storm surge which could be between 6 and 12 feet.

"You are not going to survive this if it happens," Scott told residents. "Now is the time to evacuate."

Scott says the state hasn't closed southbound lanes on interstates because of the need to continue getting supplies into South Florida. But he says they've opened the shoulder of Interstate 75's northbound lanes from Wildwood in central Florida to the Georgia line, north of Lake City.

3 p.m.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has yet to decide whether to order residents to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma.

McMaster said he is awaiting the next update from the National Hurricane Center. He has scheduled another news conference at 6 p.m. Friday.

Federal forecasters have shifted the center of Irma well west of South Carolina. But western parts of the state are still in Monday's forecast cone as Irma diminishes from a hurricane to a tropical depression.

McMaster says if he orders people to leave their homes, the evacuation would take effect at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The governor also rescinded parts of an order signed Thursday requiring health care facilities in all coastal counties to move patients inland and not take new, non-emergency patients. The order still applied to three counties.
 

2:52 p.m.

Gov. Rick Scott is urging residents along Florida's Gulf coast to get out of evacuation zones as Hurricane Irma's path has moved slightly west.

During a news conference on Friday afternoon in Lee County in southwest Florida, Scott warned of storm surge which could be between 6 and 12 feet.

"You are not going to survive this if it happens," Scott told residents. "Now is the time to evacuate."

Scott says the state hasn't closed southbound lanes on interstates because of the need to continue getting supplies into South Florida. But he says they've opened the shoulder of Interstate 75's northbound lanes from Wildwood in central Florida to the Georgia line, north of Lake City.

2:30 p.m.

A top homeland security adviser to President Donald Trump is urging those in the path of Hurricane Irma to stay vigilant and listen to the directions of their local and state officials.

Tom Bossert says at the White House that people in Florida and elsewhere should not be focused on the specific track of the storm, but should make preparations now to take care of themselves and their families.

As Florida deals with gasoline shortages, Bossert says responders are bringing in as much fuel as possible.

Bossert says the Trump administration is thankful that Congress passed the $15.3 billion disaster aid package. He says Trump may sign the bill on Friday.

2:30 p.m.

A top U.S. homeland security adviser says President Donald Trump's administration wants some hurricane-ravaged areas to rebuild with potential flooding in mind.

Thomas Bossert told reporters Friday that officials are reconsidering Trump's executive order last month that rolled back President Obama's directive for flood plain buildings to adhere to tighter standards. Bossert said that people "need to build back smarter and stronger against flood plain concerns when we use federal dollars." He added that the administration will decide new standards over the next month or so.

Trump's order last month revoked Obama's directive requiring that such projects built with federal aid take rising sea levels into account. Trump suggested the predicted risks from sea level rise driven by climate change are overblown.

2:30 p.m.

Authorities in Florida say a man trying to install hurricane shutters in preparation for Hurricane Irma fell from a ladder and died.

Davie Police Sgt. Mark Leone said in an email that a 57-year-old man had been hired to install hurricane shutters Thursday morning. He fell about 15 feet (5 meters) from a ladder and hit his head on a pool deck.

The man was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The man's name wasn't immediately released.

2:30 p.m.

A 16-year-old junior professional surfer in Barbados died this week while surfing large swells generated by Hurricane Irma.

Zander Venezia was surfing on the island's east coast when he drowned Tuesday as the hurricane churned several hundred miles away.

Family friend and surfing instructor Alan Burke said Venezia hit his head and lost consciousness. He said it was a freak accident that occurred under blue skies and ideal surfing conditions.

Burke said Venezia told a friend in his last words that he was surfing the best waves of his life.

Venezia had represented Barbados on its national surfing team as a junior pro.

2:30 p.m.

Laura Strickling and her husband, Taylor, moved to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands three years ago from Washington, D.C., so he could take a job first as a law clerk and then with a law firm.

They rented an apartment at the top floor of a house with a stunning view of the turquoise water of Megan's Bay, which is surrounded by low hills covered in deep green trees. The couple is used to living in tough circumstances: Taylor Strickling worked in Afghanistan for three years, helping to set up a law school, and Laura, an opera singer, visited him there often. They've also lived in Morocco.

But she says nothing prepared them for the stress of spending the night, huddled with their 1-year-old daughter and another couple and their 1-year-old son, inside the basement apartment of the house while Hurricane Irma raged outside for 12 hours.  Strickling says she has sat through a Taliban gunfight "and this was scarier."

When they emerged, they found that their apartment on the top floor was unscathed. All around them, though, was destruction, roofs torn from houses, the lush vegetation gone, and power lines strewn about, including across their driveway.

Strickling says she and her husband have no plans to leave St. Thomas, although she admits she is worried about the impending approach of Hurricane Jose.

"It's not good."

2 p.m.

Stevet Jeremiah lost her 2-year-old son, her house and all her belongings when Hurricane Irma slammed into the tiny island of Barbuda.

Now she is leaving the island for good.

Jeremiah said her mother and other son had been sent to Antigua and she and her husband were going to follow.

She said she has "nothing, not even an ID to say my name."

When it was still a Category 5 storm, the hurricane ripped the roof off her house and filled it with water. Jeremiah says there was "so much water beating past us, we had to crawl to get to safety." Her son was swept away in floodwaters.

In Antigua, she planned to look for her surviving son and her mother, and start making arrangements for the 2-year-old's funeral.

She said she has experienced hurricanes before, but "never anything like this in my life ... and I don't ever, ever, ever want to see something like this again."

Irma practically decimated houses and other infrastructure on Barbuda, and damaged telecommunications equipment, roads and public utilities. The government has since declared the island a disaster zone and declared a state of emergency.

Officials in Antigua launched a national campaign to open their homes to hurricane victims from Barbuda.

1:40 p.m.

Pope Francis is expressing solidarity with earthquake victims in Mexico as well as those in the path of Hurricane Irma.

Francis spoke after a mass in Villavicencio, Colombia, where he said he's praying those who had lost loved ones or their homes in the disasters.

The pope's visit to Colombia was intended to be a celebration of the country's steps toward peace. But the rising death toll from Irma and the magnitude 8.1 earthquake Thursday night in southern Mexico have somewhat dampened the spirited mood surrounding Francis' visit.

Speaking to the disaster victims, the pope said: "I have you in my heart and am praying for you."

1:30 p.m.

As hundreds of thousands of people evacuate coastal Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma, Tony Marcellus was struggling to figure out how to get his elderly mother and grandfather from their home near the ocean in West Palm Beach to his place in Atlanta, 600 miles away. Flights and rental cars were sold out, so he hired an Uber driver to take them 170 miles to meet him in Orlando.

He says he gave the driver a very nice tip.

Getting out is requiring creative methods. Some are taking any available flight, even to random destinations. Others are combining buses, carpools, and hitching rides with strangers.

Tony's mom Celine says she's been worried sick for days, since her father is in a wheelchair. Now she says she's got peace of mind.

1:20 p.m.

President Donald Trump says Hurricane Irma "is a storm of absolutely historic destructive potential."

In a video posted to Facebook, the president urges those in Irma's path to be vigilant and heed the recommendations of all government officials.

The storm remains a powerful threat to Florida and the Southeast Atlantic coast.

Trump says his administration is doing all it can to help with disaster preparations, and the U.S. "stands united" to address the storm.

 

He says, "We will endure and come back stronger than ever before."

12:22 p.m.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez says more than 660,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate as Hurricane Irma approaches South Florida.

The mayor said during a news conference Friday that this is the largest evacuation order he can remember.

For anyone staying put, he says they need to have food and water to last at least three days.

He says Miami-Dade County tap water is fine and people should fill every possible container before the storm hits. He says the water is fine to drink.

The county plans to have 43 shelters with a capacity of over 100,000 people open by the end of the day Friday.

12:15 p.m.

Florida's emergency management division says nearly 6,000 people are already huddling in shelters ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Most of the evacuees are gathered in shelters in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, where catastrophic Category 4 winds are expected to hit this weekend.

Hundreds of thousands of residents have fled in anticipation of Irma's winds and storm surge, which have already killed at least 20 people in the Caribbean. Many roads leaving the state have been jammed with traffic.

Gov. Rick Scott has directed all public schools, colleges and universities and state offices to close through Monday at least to make them available for shelter and staging of recovery efforts.

12:10 p.m.

Floridians fleeing Hurricane Irma have turned Atlanta's freeways into a ribbon of red neon brake lights, with traffic in some spots barely moving.

Thousands of the evacuees have been funneled to the city, since so many them are heading north on Interstate 75 straight to Atlanta.

Some ended up at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which opened its vast camp grounds to anyone trying to escape Irma.

It took 21 hours for Suzanne Pallot of Miami to reach Atlanta Thursday, in an SUV packed with four other people, their luggage and two cats.

After a night at a relative's house, she heard weather forecasts predicting tropical storm force winds for Atlanta on Monday. So the group decided Friday to keep moving, this time to Memphis, Tennessee.

12:05 p.m.

Georgia's governor is still urging nearly 540,000 residents of the state's coast to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma, even as forecasts show the storm's center could enter the state far inland after churning up the Florida peninsula.

Gov. Nathan Deal told a news conference Friday he's not expanding his evacuation order affecting Georgia's six coastal counties.

But Deal notes that Irma's path remains unpredictable, and forecasts show it could enter Georgia anywhere from the Atlantic coast to the Alabama state line.

The National Weather Service says Irma could still slam coastal Georgia with dangerous storm surge. And while the storm could arrive as a weakened tropical storm, some areas would still face heavy rains and an elevated risk of tornadoes.

11:55 a.m.

Meteorology director Jeff Masters at Weather Underground says Hurricane Jose, now a Category 4 storm, will definitely add insult to the injuries caused by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean.           But he says the islands that got nailed -- namely Barbuda, St. Martin and Anguila -- will mostly suffer tropical storm force winds and heavy rains.

That will hamper relief efforts so it's a big deal, but he says it's "nothing compared to what they already went through."

11:40 a.m.

Hurricane Jose has now become an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, threatening Caribbean islands already devastated by Hurricane Irma.

Jose now has top sustained winds of 150 mph (240 kph) and as it moves toward the northern leeward islands at a speedy 18 mph.

A Tropical Storm Watch has been issued for St. Thomas and St. John.

The government of Antigua has issued a Tropical Storm Watch for the British Virgin Islands

The government of France has issued a Tropical Storm Warning for St. Martin and St. Barts.

The government of Sint Maarten has issued a Tropical Storm Warning as well.

11:30 a.m.

The latest storm discussion is out from National Hurricane Center reminding people in Florida that Hurricane Irma will likely hit land as a dangerous major hurricane is so immense that it will bring life-threatening wind impacts to much of the state regardless of exactly where its center moves.

The storm surge also could be deadly across southern Florida and the Florida Keys during the next 36 hours. The threat of significant storm surge flooding along the southwest coast of Florida has now increased, with 6 to 12 feet of inundation above ground level possible in this area.

Again, the hurricane center says this is a life-threatening situation, so everyone in these areas should take all actions to evacuate before rising water makes it impossible.

11:20 a.m.

Associated Press videos show the destruction Hurricane Irma brought to the Caribbean island of St. Martin.

Gnarled black branches of leafless trees, street after street now littered with piles of corrugated tin, plywood, wrought iron, battered cars and unidentifiable objects that were once parts of someone's life.

Handfuls of people are stumbling through the debris. One reaches the property where her home has now disappeared and says "Oh my God ... Where did you go?"

There's little left of the Hotel Mercure -- just its sign, painted on one of the walls that still stand amid the ruins. As some begin to clean up, others line up outside a hospital, where the first two syllables of an "EMERGENCY" sign lie on the ground.

11:10 a.m.

Authorities on the Dutch territory of St. Maarten say it will take months before people can recover from Hurricane Irma. Prime Minister William Marlin told the Dutch military that the Caribbean island lost many, many homes; schools are destroyed; both government buildings are severely damaged; many people have lost their homes; hotels are so damaged that tourists won't come; the electricity company lost its roof so generators aren't working; nearly half the water tanks are gone; and all the gas stations are destroyed.

He also confirms that people have been looting. He calls it "a psychological thing that happens anywhere in the world following a major disaster like this. People become kind of hopeless and there is no communication."

11 a.m.

After days of saying they would continue with normal operations while monitoring Irma, Sea World and its properties on Friday announced closings for the weekend.

Sea World and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay will close down at 5 p.m. on Saturday, pending further updates on the storm. Both parks will remain closed Sunday and Monday. Aquatics Orlando will be closed Saturday through Monday. Discovery Cove will be closed Sunday and Monday. Disney World and Universal Orlando have not responded for requests on updated to their plans.

As of Thursday both parks said they will continue with normal business hours but are monitoring the storm.

10:45 a.m.

The death toll from Hurricane Irma has increased to 20 with four more deaths reported in the British Virgin Islands. The other lives lost include nine on the French Caribbean islands of St. Martin and St. Barts, four in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and one each on the islands of Anguilla, Barbuda and the Dutch side of St. Martin.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency gave no details about the latest confirmed deaths in the British territory of about 40 small islands, where Irma caused major damage late Wednesday, especially to the largest and most populated island of Tortola.

The British government has been coordinating relief efforts to the cluster of islands near Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Caribbean disaster agency says the Tortola airport is operational but the tower has been "compromised."

10:10 a.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said traffic officials have decided against reversing the direction of southbound lanes because they still need to move gas and supplies south.

A massive evacuation has clogged Florida's major highways. Scott says most of the state will have hurricane impacts and "we are running out of time -- the storm is almost here." So what they are doing is opening up the shoulders to drivers on Interstate 75 from Wildwood, where the Florida turnpike ends, to the Georgia state line.

In Georgia meanwhile, Gov. Nathan Deal just announced contraflow starting Saturday morning on Interstate 16 to ease the mandatory evacuation from Savannah and other coastal communities.

9:50 a.m.

Harvey and Irma. Who knew? Certainly not Harvey and Irma Schluter of Washington state. Married 75 years now, they're wondering how it came to be that two major hurricanes bearing their names are poised to strike the U.S. back-to-back.

The New York Times reports 104-year-old Harvey married 92-year-old Irma in 1942.

There have been a few storms named Harvey since then, but none followed by an Irma.

And this is likely the last time a Harvey and Irma swirl through the Atlantic. The World Meteorological Organization alternates men's and women's names in alphabetical order for Atlantic storms. But since these two have caused widespread damage, they are almost certain to be retired.

9:45 a.m.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has told Florida's governor that the structural integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike containing Lake Okeechobee "will not be compromised" by Hurricane Irma. But voluntary evacuations for communities surrounding the lake's southern half are now mandatory, because it's possible Irma's winds will push water over the dike.

The seven cities under mandatory evacuation orders are South Bay, Lake Harbor, Pahokee, Moore Haven, Clewiston, Belle Glade and Canal Point.

The same area was hit back in 1928 by the Okeechobee hurricane, which made landfall with 145 mph winds. The dikes failed then and at least 2,500 people drowned, most of them farmworkers and their families. More than 1,700 buildings were destroyed by that storm. But the only reported impact on the nearby Mar-a-Lago mansion, now owned by President Donald Trump, was a damaged Roman-style window.

9:25 a.m.

All five living former U.S. presidents have issued a joint "One America Appeal" for donations to support the staggering recovery needs from Hurricane Harvey. Now that Hurricane Irma has damaged Puerto Rico and is closing in on Florida, the presidents are expanding the appeal to help its victims as well.

The appeal launched with a public service announcement focused on "Our Friends in Texas" during the NFL season opener, but a second PSA addressing both hurricanes is launching this weekend, and a website for tax-deductible donations related to both storms is now live at OneAmericaAppeal.org.

A special restricted account has been established through the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation to collect and quickly distribute donations to ensure 100 cents out of every dollar goes to assist hurricane victims. The Carter Center says Harvey has displaced more than one million people and caused an estimated $180 billion in damage over its 300-mile path of destruction.

Some forecasters have predicted that Irma's economic toll could be even greater.

9:10 a.m.

For an entire generation in South Florida, Hurricane Andrew was the definition of a monster storm.

For the people who led victims through that devastating aftermath, Hurricane Irma is looking far worse by nearly every measure.

Weather Channel senior hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross was a local television meteorologist hailed as a hero back then. He says Irma's impact on Florida will be much greater -- "an entirely different level of phenomenon."

Kate Hale grabbed attention as Miami-Dade's emergency management chief by saying "where the hell is the cavalry" after Andrew laid waste to half the county. She says nobody could make up a worse scenario than Irma right now. Combined with flooding from Hurricane Harvey and wildfires out west, she says the effect on the nation's economy is "potentially staggering."

9 a.m.

President Donald Trump is urging people to "be safe" as Hurricane Irma approaches.

On Twitter Friday, Trump wrote, "Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen. Be safe and get out of its way, if possible."

Trump added that the federal government is ready, and in another tweet, he said: "Our incredible U.S. Coast Guard saved more than 15,000 lives last week with Harvey. Irma could be even tougher. We love our Coast Guard!"

Coastal residents around South Florida have been ordered to evacuate as the killer storm closes in on the peninsula for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend.

8:50 a.m.

The Miami Marlins are in Atlanta for the start of a weeklong road trip with Hurricane Irma very much on their minds. They arrived on a chartered flight crowded with the families of players and staff. That helped ease some immediate concerns, but they couldn't ignore what's going on back in Miami, where highways are jammed as coastal residents face mandatory evacuations.

Miami Manager Don Mattingly says the team is still watching what happened with Harvey, and now worrying that Irma could devastate their hometown.

8:30 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Irma weakened a bit more but remains a powerful threat to Florida with storm surges that could reach 10 feet in some places.

Irma's winds dropped to 150 mph, still a Category 4 dangerous storm, as it moves between Cuba and the Bahamas over warmer than normal waters that can intensify tropical storms. Irma's core should hit Florida early Sunday morning, but its tropical force storm winds can arrive as early as Saturday morning.

The hurricane center is projecting storm surge on top of normal tides of 5 to 10 feet all the way from Jupiter Inlet, which is north of Palm Beach on Florida's east coast, around to Bonita Beach, which is on Florida's west coast south of Fort Myers. The Florida Keys will likely be swamped. From Bonita Beach north to Venice, storm surge is expected to be 3 to 5 feet. And from Jupiter Inlet north to Sebastian Inlet, which is just south of Cape Canaveral, it is expected to be 3 to 6 feet.

Forecasters say this life-threatening surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.

8:05 a.m.

Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long offered some advice for people in the path of Hurricane Irma who've been ordered to evacuate: Get out now.

Speaking at FEMA headquarters in Washington on Friday, Long said no one in Florida has experienced a storm with the intensity of what's now bearing down on the state. He said there is "a lot of certainty in this forecast" showing Irma making landfall somewhere in Florida this weekend, and the winds and storm surge from the storm will be devastating.

Long said those in low-lying areas who've been told to evacuate "need to get out and heed the warning."

More than 8,000 FEMA staff have been deployed to prepare for Irma and help with the continuing recovery effort from Hurricane Harvey, which caused massive flooding in southeastern Texas last week.

7:35 a.m.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb says Hurricane Irma has left at least nine people dead, seven missing and 112 injured on the French Caribbean islands of St. Martin and St. Barts and urged coastal residents to take shelter as a new storm approaches.

Collomb told reporters Friday that the casualty toll could rise as more emergency workers reach deeper into the area.

He said France is shuttling security forces, emergency workers and aid to the islands before Hurricane Jose hits St. Martin and St. Barts on Saturday night. He said the top priority is to "save the population and restore order" after looting broke out in some areas.

The French rescue operation includes military frigates, military and civilian planes and helicopters. A warship is leaving from France next Tuesday to bring heavy equipment to help rebuild the islands, where the government says a majority of buildings were damaged or destroyed.

7:15 a.m.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander will fly to the Caribbean island of Curacao on Sunday to inspect the coordination of relief efforts for devastated former colony St. Maarten in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which hit as a Category 5 storm.

The Royal House announced the visit Friday, saying the monarch will assess in Curacao "whether and when it is possible to visit St. Maarten" and nearby Dutch islands Saba and St. Eustatius, which were less severely damaged by Irma's winds.

A headquarters in Curacao is helping coordinate a military operation to deliver supplies to the 40,000-strong population of St. Maarten. The tiny country, which shares an island with the French territory of St. Martin, has been autonomous since 2010, but remains part of the Dutch commonwealth.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte says that most people are surviving on the island without the basic necessities of life. Power, running water and most communications were knocked out by the powerful storm and looting has been reported by local authorities struggling to keep control of the island.

6 a.m.

Dutch military forces are helping maintain order and distributing aid to the shattered former colony of St. Maarten after clearing the runway at the capital's badly damaged airport and securing berths in the harbor for two navy ships to bring ashore supplies.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters Friday that the first plane already has landed at the airport in the capital, Philipsburg, and navy vessels have unloaded vital supplies in a race against time before the next storm arrives.

Hurricane Jose is forecast to pass through the region Saturday, but Rutte says it's not expected - at the moment - to directly hit St. Maarten as Irma did Wednesday and winds will likely be significantly weaker.

Rutte and Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk say troops are helping stretched local authorities on the autonomous territory to uphold law and order amid looting of stores. St. Maarten is the Dutch side of St. Martin, an island split between Dutch and French control.

5:10 a.m.

France's government is reporting looting of televisions and other goods on the Caribbean island of St. Martin after it was hammered by Hurricane Irma, as warships and military planes ferry police and rescue crews to the site.

Annick Girardin, minister for France's overseas territories, described on BFM television Friday "scenes of pillaging" of televisions as well as food and water.

She lamented "how people can take advantage of the distress of others" and said it's essential for police to restore order and ensure urgent care for victims. The French government says four people are confirmed dead and about 50 injured on the French side of St. Martin. Another death was reported on the Dutch side of the shared island.

French military spokesman Col. Patrik Steiger told The Associated Press two French frigates are expected to arrive on St. Martin on Friday and military transport planes and helicopters are bringing in personnel and aid to the local population from the nearby French island of Guadeloupe.

4:55 a.m.

Hurricane Irma has weakened to a Category 4 storm Friday as it batters the Caribbean on a path toward Florida but remains a powerful hurricane.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Irma's maximum sustained winds have decreased to near 155 mph (250 kph). The hurricane center says some fluctuations in strength are likely over the next day or two but Irma is expected to stay a Category 4 storm.

Just before 5 a.m. EDT Friday, the hurricane was centered about 55 miles (90 kilometers) northwest of Great Inagua Island and 495 miles (795 kilometers) southeast of Miami.

4 a.m.

Hurricane warnings have been issued for South Florida as thousands of people evacuate.

More than a half-million people have been ordered to leave the region ahead of Category 5 Hurricane Irma.

The National Hurricane Center on Thursday night issued hurricane warnings for the Keys and an area of the peninsula including metro Miami and Lake Okeechobee. Storm surge warnings cover both coasts along the state's tip.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered all public schools, colleges and universities to close Friday through Monday.

The governor told residents not to become complacent because the storm could have "major and life-threatening impacts from coast to coast."

3:15 a.m.

Hurricane Irma battered the Turks and Caicos Islands early Friday as the fearsome Category 5 storm continued a rampage through the Caribbean that has killed at least 11 people, with Florida in its sights.

Waves as high as 20 feet (6 meters) are expected in the Turks and Caicos. Communications went down as the storm slammed into the islands, and the extent of the devastation was unclear.

The first hurricane warnings were issued for parts of southern Florida as the state braced for what could be a catastrophic hit over the weekend. Following in Irma's wake was Hurricane Jose, with some of the islands hit hardest by Irma in its expected path.

THURSDAY

11:20 p.m.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami has issued hurricane warnings for South Florida and the Keys.

Forecasters on Thursday night issued a warning for a sizeable segment of Florida, including the Miami metro area and Lake Okeechobee, as Category 5 Hurricane Irma tracks toward the state with 165 mph (270kph) winds.

A storm surge has also been issued for the same area.

Irma was 585 miles (940 kilometers) east-southeast of Miami late Thursday. The Hurricane Center predicts severe conditions to begin Saturday in Florida.

10:45 p.m.

Florida State canceled its home football game Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe because of impending Hurricane Irma.

The cancellation Thursday night came after Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered all state colleges and universities closed through Monday to support shelter and emergency relief efforts.

The teams do not have open dates on the same week, preventing them from rescheduling the game.

Officials on Wednesday initially moved the start time for the game in Tallahassee from 7:30 p.m. to noon.

10:40 p.m.

The U.S. Consulate General in Curaçao says it believes about 6,000 Americans are stranded on St. Martin after Hurricane Irma leveled the Caribbean island.

The consulate is collecting the names and locations of the stranded and says it is working with the U.S. and other governments to try to figure out how to get the Americans off the island either by air or boat.

Frantic Americans were calling relatives in the U.S. to try to get them off the island, especially because Hurricane Jose threatened a second blow to the tourist Mecca.

The island is split between French and Dutch control. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said four people were confirmed dead and 50 injured on the French side of the island. The toll could rise because rescue teams had yet to get a complete look at the damage.

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9:05 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is ordering the closing of all schools, colleges and universities throughout the state.

Scott announced late Thursday that all schools as well as state offices would be closed Friday through next Monday.

Many school districts and universities had already voluntarily agreed to close due to the looming arrival of Hurricane Irma over the weekend. But many school districts and colleges in north central and northwest Florida had remained open.

But in a brief statement Scott said he ordered all schools to shut down so that the buildings could be used potentially as shelters or as staging grounds for relief efforts.

He said Floridians "facing a life-threatening storm" and "every family must prepare to evacuate."

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8:55 p.m.

Florida officials want residents to evacuate the area directly south of Lake Okeechobee as Hurricane Irma approaches.

Gov. Rick Scott released a statement Thursday ordering an immediate voluntary evacuation for cities surrounding the southern half of the lake from Lake Port to Canal Point in Hendry, Palm Beach and Glades counties. Mandatory evacuations will be put in place beginning Friday morning.

The statement said Scott made the decision after discussing the Herbert Hoover Dike with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Col. Jason Kirk told Scott the structural integrity of the dike would not be compromised, but excessive could wind push some water over the dike.

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8:15 p.m.

The five living former U.S. presidents are creating the "One America Appeal" to raise money for storm recovery as Texas and Louisiana regroup from Harvey and Florida braces for Hurricane Irma.

The hurricane recovery effort was announced Thursday by former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.

Organizers say a special restricted account has been established through the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation to collect and quickly distribute donations. Officials say "100 cents out of every dollar" donated will help hurricane victims.

Donations designated to help victims of Harvey will be distributed to the Houston Harvey Relief Fund and the Rebuild Texas Fund. The appeal is expected to be expanded to help Irma victims.

Online donations can be made at OneAmericaAppeal.org .

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8 p.m.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Irma is "pummeling" the Turks and Caicos islands.

Forecasters say the Category 5 hurricane has top sustained winds of 175 mph (280 kph) and is expected to remain powerful for the next couple of days. Irma is centered about 55 miles (85 kilometers) west-southwest of Grand Turk Island and is moving west-northwest at 16 mph (26 kph).

In the Atlantic, Category 3 Hurricane Jose is moving toward the northern Leeward Islands. Jose has maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph) and is moving west-northwest at 18 mph (30 kph). The storm is about 540 miles (870 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles.

 

Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft are on the way to investigate Hurricane Katia in the Gulf of Mexico. Katia is stationary about 190 miles (310 kilometers) north-northeast of Veracruz, Mexico, and forecasters didn't expect much movement overnight. It has top winds of 80 mph (130 kph).

5:40 p.m.

The three major amusement parks in Orlando, Florida, are all operating under normal conditions as Hurricane Irma threatens the entire state.

Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and Sea World said Thursday morning they are monitoring the movement of Irma, but at this point have made no plans to shut down their parks or alter the normal hours of operations. The storm is projected to reach the southern part of the state Saturday and some tracking models have the Category 5 Hurricane reaching central Florida on Monday.

Each park has refund or rescheduling policies in place for park visitors who may not feel comfortable visiting Orlando this weekend. The parks have their individual policies posted on their respective websites.

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5:30 p.m.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Irma was centered at 5 p.m. EDT Thursday about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Grand Turk Island and had top sustained winds of 175 mph (280 kph). It says the extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane is moving west-northwest at 16 mph (26 kph).

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose has become the third major hurricane of this year's Atlantic season. Jose now has top sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph). At 5 p.m. EDT, it was moving west-northwest at 18 mph (30 kph) and was about 660 miles (1,060 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia was beginning to move Thursday afternoon toward the coast of Mexico. Forecasters say the Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph), could be near major hurricane strength at landfall.

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5:20 p.m.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Irma was centered at 5 p.m. EDT Thursday about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Grand Turk Island and had top sustained winds of 175 mph (280 kph). It says the extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane is moving west-northwest at 16 mph (26 kph).

The Miami-based center says the Cuban government has now issued a hurricane warning for four provinces, including the Cuban keys along the island nation's north shore. That is in addition to hurricane warnings and watches previously issued elsewhere in the region. It says the distinct eye of Irma should keep moving between Hispaniola and the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday evening

In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia was beginning to move Thursday afternoon toward the coast of Mexico after being nearly stationary for hours some 215 miles (345 kilometers) east of Tampico, Mexico. Forecasters say the Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph), could be near major hurricane strength at landfall. The forecast calls for a turn southwestward nearing the coast late Friday or early Saturday.

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose has become the third major hurricane of this year's Atlantic season. Jose now has top sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph). At 5 p.m. EDT, it was moving west-northwest at 18 mph (30 kph) and was about 660 miles (1,060 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles.

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5:15 p.m.

Authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands say three people have died after Irma caused what they described as "catastrophic" damage.

Governor spokesman Samuel Topp said Thursday that the deaths occurred in the St. Thomas and St. John district. Officials say crews are clearing many roads that remain inaccessible.

Irma also killed four people and injured about 50 on the French side of St. Martin, an island split between Dutch and French control. Three more deaths were reported on the British island of Anguilla, independent Barbuda and the Dutch side of St. Martin.

The Category 5 storm destroyed homes, schools and roads as it roared through the northeast Caribbean this week and heads toward Florida.

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4:40 p.m.

The star-studded Sept. 12 telethon scheduled to help victims of Hurricane Harvey is expanding its reach to include those affected by Hurricane Irma as well.

Event organizers say that they are prepared to help in any way they can.

Beyoncé, Blake Shelton, Barbra Streisand and Oprah Winfrey will headline the one-hour telethon that will be simulcast next week on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CMT.

The event will be telecast live at 8 p.m. Eastern on Sept. 12, and on tape delay at 8 p.m. on the West Coast, and streamed live on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

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4:10 p.m.

Hurricane Irma's top sustained winds weakened by about 10 mph (16 kph) on Thursday because of a bit of dry air and interaction with land on the island of Hispaniola, but it is still a top-of-the-scale hurricane.

And according to meteorologist Jeff Masters with Weather Underground, Irma could intensify "back up to 185 mph (298 kph) or even higher because it is headed to warmer deeper water" over the Florida straits.

 

Although the hurricane center forecasts some more weakening because of upper-level winds that could arrive and fight the storm, Masters says those winds might develop too late on Sunday, after Irma has already turned north to Florida.

4 p.m.

Maj. Jeremy DeHart has some advice for Floridians after flying through Hurricane Harvey last month and now through the eye of Irma at 10,000 feet on Wednesday.

The U.S. Air Force Reserve weather officer says to "take it seriously .... because this is the real deal."

DeHart has flown into about 20 hurricanes, and he says he's never gone into anything quite so powerful. Or beautiful. Inside Irma's calm, cool center, there's a stadium effect, with thunderstorms flashing on the surrounding eyewall. He calls it "spectacular," and says the "satellite images can't do it justice."

3:45 p.m.

The fate of Florida depends on when and how Hurricane Irma makes a right turn.

National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini says forecasters have no doubt it will turn in the days ahead. If it's an early, sharp turn, Irma is more likely to keep closer to the peninsula's eastern shore or even over water as it churns north.

But if it turns later and more widely, the center of Irma and its maximum destructive capacity would move inland.

Jeff Masters, the meteorology director of Weather Underground, says the main factor determining the turn will most likely be a low pressure system expected to develop over the Great Lakes as part of a dip in the jet stream, with some extra help from winds flowing out of the newly formed Hurricane Katia.

3:35 p.m.

South Florida officials are expanding evacuation orders as Hurricane Irma approaches, telling more than a half-million people to seek safety inland.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has announced evacuation orders for downtown Miami and other parts of the city, plus southern parts of the county. The expanded evacuation area also includes Homestead, Coral Gables, South Miami, Miami Shores and North Miami Beach.

County officials had already ordered evacuations Wednesday for Miami Beach and the other barrier islands.

The total population for the affected communities is nearly 700,000 people, though the evacuation zones don't always include entire cities. Miami-Dade County's population is about 2.7 million.

3:20 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has a stark warning for anyone who wants to defy a mandatory evacuation order ahead of Hurricane Irma. He says: "If you live in any evacuation zones and you're still at home, LEAVE!"

Scott said he "cannot stress this enough. Do not ignore evacuation orders. You rebuild your home ... you cannot recreate your family."

And this: "Do not try to ride out this storm," he says. The time to leave is now, because he says "we can't save you once the storm hits."

3 p.m.

The eye of Hurricane Irma is moving west-northwest off the Dominican Republic's northern coast as an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Irma has top sustained winds near 175 mph (280 kph) and is expected to continue moving between Hispaniola and the Turks and Caicos in the afternoon hours, on a course taking it to the southeastern Bahamas Thursday evening.

As of 2 p.m. EDT, Irma's crisply defined eye was about 65 miles (105 kilometers) north-northeast of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, moving at about 16 mph (25 kph) to the west-northwest.

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose has rapidly strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane with top sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph). Jose is following Irma's path, moving west-northwest at 18 mph (30 kph) over open ocean, about 660 miles (1,060 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia was virtually stationary Thursday afternoon, some 215 miles (345 kilometers) east of Tampico, Mexico. Forecasters say that Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph), should remain stationary through late Thursday, then approach the Mexican coast late Friday or early Saturday.

2:40 p.m.

A second Dutch navy ship has arrived at the shattered island of St. Maarten and is "ready to deliver aid to the population in need."

The Dutch navy just tweeted that the Pelikaan ship has moored at the island's capital of Philipsburg to unload vital supplies. Another navy vessel, the Zeeland, already is in the area and has been using an onboard helicopter to assess damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma.

Two military aircraft are being loaded in the Netherlands before flying to the island of Curacao, from where they will fly onward to St. Maarten to deliver five days of food and water for the 40,000 population. The aircraft also are bringing 100 more troops to deliver aid, repair infrastructure and restore order.

2:25 p.m.

Evacuation orders are multiplying across Florida as local officials try to get the most vulnerable populations to move to safety ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Miami Dade has now made evacuations mandatory for all of its coastal areas, barrier islands and mobile homes. Monroe County's mandatory order stands for the entire Florida Keys. Broward County's order remains voluntary for mobile homes and low-lying areas. Collier County issued a voluntary evacuation order for Marco Island.

County authorities across South Florida are making school buses available for people with special needs to get out.

Additional evacuations are expected throughout the state.

2:10 p.m.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Jose has grown into a Category 2 storm, and it threatens some of the same islands ravaged just days ago by Hurricane Irma.

Jose was about 660 miles (1,060) kilometers east of the Lesser Antilles early Thursday afternoon, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph).

It was heading to the west-northwest at 18 mph (20 kph)

The Hurricane Center says a hurricane watch is in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, which is already trying to recover from Category 5 Irma.

Now Jose could approach those islands on Saturday.

2:05 p.m.

The Dutch interior minister says one person is confirmed dead on the former colony of St. Maarten as a result of Category 5 Hurricane Irma.

Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk said Thursday that there are also a number of injuries and that the Dutch authorities still only have an "incomplete picture" of the damage on St. Maarten, which is home to some 40,000 people and suffered severe damage as Irma barreled over on Wednesday.

Plasterk also says there have been some public order problems including instances of looting. He says the Netherlands is sending an extra 50 police from Curacao.

1:55 p.m.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statewide emergency declaration Thursday and told people to be prepared statewide even though projections suggest the storm could be much weaker by next week. Cooper says tropical storms can be very dangerous, and "this storm can impact any part of North Carolina -- all over our state from the mountains to the coast."

Nick Petro with the National Weather Service in Raleigh said heavy rain and inland wind damage could result in extended power outages and mountain mudslides as well as dangerous coastal surf.

More than 300 National Guard soldiers are being brought in to help, with more on standby. All highway work and lane closures are being suspended to help evacuations from other states.

1:50 p.m.

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson says he and his staff rode out Hurricane Irma on his private Caribbean island without suffering injuries, but the area is heavily damaged.

The head of the Virgin Group owns small Necker island in the British Virgin Islands. He said in a blog entry Thursday that he and the staff who stayed with him in a concrete cellar on the island are safe and well.

Branson said the area surrounding his home is "completely and utterly devastated." He said entire houses have disappeared and "I have never seen anything like this hurricane."

Outside the cellar he said bathroom and bedroom doors and windows were blown out. He said he was communicating via a satellite phone, but all other communications were down.

1:45 p.m.

Haiti's interior minister has ordered the evacuation of coastal areas in the north of the country.

That includes people living in and around Port-de-Paix and the island known as Il de la Tortue.

Haiti is expected to be spared a direct hit from Hurricane Irma but heavy rains and high surf could trigger dangerous floods in the impoverished country.

Interior Minister Max Rudolph Saint-Albin is urging people to move to higher ground. Shelters have been set up the Civil Protection agency.

The evacuation is mandatory but Haiti does not have enough police or other officials to enforce evacuation orders and the number of people who left vulnerable areas is not known.

1:35 p.m.

The Cuban civil defense agency is preparing people on the northern coast of Cuba's eastern provinces for a sideswipe from Hurricane Irma in the hours ahead.

Santiago province has opened 125 evacuation centers that can hold 38,000 people. Another 20,000 people can take refuge with neighbors and family in safer zones.

Civil Defense representative Odesa Fuentes said the centers will be open for the duration of the storm's passage on Friday.

1:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump says "we are with the people of Florida" as Hurricane Irma draws near.

Speaking in the Oval Office on Thursday, Trump says his administration is "very concerned" as the record hurricane approaches the U.S. mainland, but he says "we think we're as well prepared as you can possibly be."

The president says he hopes the storm won't hit Florida directly.

He says, "We are with the people of Florida."

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1:10 p.m.

As NASA secured Kennedy Space Center on Thursday for potentially catastrophic wind and rain, the private SpaceX company squeezed out a rocket launch.

Kennedy is closing its doors to all nonessential staff, effective Friday. Of 9,000 workers, a hurricane crew of 120 people will ride out Irma on site.

Most critical buildings can withstand gusts up to about 135 mph (217 kph), but Irma's winds could well exceed that if the storm's center reaches Cape Canaveral.

Space center workers rushed to stack sandbags at doorways and cover the Orion capsule scheduled to launch in two years on a brand new NASA rocket.

 

Meanwhile, SpaceX managed to launch an unmanned Falcon rocket carrying an Air Force minishuttle bound for a long experimental flight in orbit.

1 p.m.

Georgia's governor has ordered a mandatory evacuation starting on Saturday from the state's Atlantic coast ahead of Hurricane Irma. That includes the city of Savannah.

Gov. Nathan Deal issued the evacuation Thursday for all areas east of Interstate 95, all of Chatham County and some areas west of the interstate. He also expanded a state of emergency to 30 counties.

Deal's order authorizes about 5,000 Georgia National Guard members to be on active duty to help people respond and recover.

Georgia hasn't been hit by a hurricane with winds Category 3 or higher since 1898.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, also declared a state of emergency. A major strike there would be the first in nearly 28 years.

12:50 p.m.

U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp says they're getting badly needed federal help after Hurricane Irma significantly damaged St. Thomas and St. John with top winds of 150 mph for more than four hours. Fire and police stations collapsed and the main hospital in St. Thomas sustained heavy damage.

Mapp told The Associated Press Thursday authorities are distributing emergency food and water, tarps and other supplies, and evacuating hospital patients to Puerto Rico and elsewhere. A curfew remains in effect, including about 5,000 tourists.

And the governor is knocking down false reports that the government is confiscating firearms. He says that's a misunderstanding of standard language used to activate the National Guard. He says he's got hospitals breached, homes with roofs gone and police and fire stations that are blown away -- he's not interested in anybody's firearms.

12:40 p.m.

There have been very few cyclones stronger than Hurricane Irma. And there have been some that lasted longer. But no other storm in recorded history has maintained top winds of 185 p.m. for 37 hours.

Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach says that breaks the previous record, held by Typhoon Haiyan, which had similar top winds for 24 hours before it hit the Philippines and killed 6,000 people in 2013.

Irma also has been the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record outside the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, measured by its barometric pressure of 914 millibars.

12:30 p.m.

Gov. Rick Scott is urging all gas stations in Florida to stay open as long as possible to accommodate evacuees.

Scott even announced at his midday Thursday news conference that police escorts will get gas station employees out safely if necessary just ahead of Hurricane Irma.

He says authorities are already escorting fuel tankers through traffic and to gas stations as quickly as possible.

Scott says all of the state's ports are still operating, bringing in fuel and supplies.

He urged residents to take only as much gas as they need to make sure there is enough for everyone who needs it.

12:15 p.m.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says four people are confirmed dead and about 50 injured on the Caribbean island of St. Martin in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

The prime minister said one person faces life-threatening injuries and two others were in serious condition.

The death toll was lower than one given earlier Thursday by France's interior minister, who said eight people had been killed on French Caribbean territories.

Philippe said four bodies have been found on St. Martin and are being identified. The island is part French, part Dutch, and Dutch authorities have not reported any casualties.

An official in Philippe's office said only four people are currently confirmed dead so far after a re-evaluation of the damage Wednesday. The official said the toll could rise as rescuers reach the scene. Philippe says large amounts of aid and equipment are en route to St. Martin and nearby St. Barts.

11:55 a.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron says he will visit French territories damaged by Hurricane Irma, "as soon as the weather allows."

Speaking in Athens Thursday, Macron said he decided not to call off his two-day visit to Greece because prevailing weather conditions would have prevented a flight to the French territories, and an emergency government meeting in Paris was concluded before he left.

Irma, the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane on record, has affected French, British and Dutch Caribbean territories.

11:45 a.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says the state is doing all it can to relieve fuel shortages and traffic jams to keep people evacuating ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Scott is acknowledging that empty pumps, long lines and crowded highways are "frustrating" for Floridians. But he says his administration is working with federal authorities and other states to move as much gas into Florida as they can.

This includes having the Florida Highway Patrol escort fuel trucks through any traffic.

Florida Highway Safety spokeswoman Beth Frady says troopers escorted trucks from two Florida ports to stations in Marion and Martin counties overnight, and also were escorting trucks from Georgia to stations in Perry, in north central Florida near where Interstate 75 crosses Interstate 10.

11:35 p.m.

Britain is sending hundreds of troops and the Royal Navy flagship HMS Ocean to its overseas islands battered by Hurricane Irma.

Britain has already sent one ship, RFA Mount Bay, to Anguilla, which took the full force of the storm.

Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said Thursday he had ordered HMS Ocean to head to the Caribbean from the Mediterranean. Fallon also said the U.K. was sending "a task group of several hundred troops, marines, engineers and additional helicopters."

British authorities are being criticized for being slow to send aid to territories in the storm's path, but Fallon said "we are going to make sure the islands get the help they need."

Irma has hit the British territories Anguilla, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos.

11:30 a.m.

Dutch airline KLM has cancelled two flights to the hurricane-shattered island of St. Maarten as authorities struggle to assess the extent of the devastation to many buildings, including the airport.

KLM said in a statement Thursday it has cancelled flights scheduled to leave the Netherlands on Friday and Sunday for St. Maarten in the aftermath of Category 5 Hurricane Irma's direct hit on the island on Wednesday.

The carrier says it is "keeping a close eye on the situation and, based on the circumstances, will decide whether operations can be resumed."

The airline says it is in contact with the Dutch government and local authorities to seek a solution for passengers stranded amid the devastation.

11:20 a.m.

Hurricane Irma is flooding parts of the Dominican Republic as it roars by just off the northern coast of the island it shares with Haiti.

Officials said about 500 tourists in the Bavaro-Punta Cana area were moved to more secure shelters just ahead of the Category 5 storm.

Civil Defense Director Rafael Carrasco says a landslide in the Samana Peninsula affected eight houses and more than 2,500 people have been evacuated.

Punta Cana airport has reopened after being closed for several hours.

Haiti's northern coast will be next, but Irma's stronger winds have yet to reach that side of the island of Hispaniola.

11 a.m.

A hurricane watch is now in effect for the Florida Keys and parts of South Florida.

The U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami says a watch has been issued for the Florida Keys, and on the South Florida mainland from Jupiter Inlet southward and around the peninsula to Bonita Beach.

The center noted that Hurricane Irma was still an "extremely dangerous" Category 5 hurricane, although its winds had decreased slightly from 180 mph (285 kph) to 175 mph (280 kph).

The hurricane was headed for the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday.

The Hurricane Center has predicted that Irma will remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it passes the Turks and Caicos, parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night, and skirts Cuba on Friday night into Saturday.

It will then likely head north toward Florida, where people were rushing to board up homes, fill cars with gasoline and find a route to safety.

10:45 a.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott maintains that the state is doing everything it can to deal with fuel shortages and traffic jams so people can evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Scott on Thursday acknowledged that the current situation is "frustrating" for Floridians, but he said the state is working with federal authorities and other states to move as much gas into the state.

This includes having the Florida Highway Patrol escort fuel trucks.

Beth Frady, a spokeswoman for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said that during the night troopers helped escort trucks from two Florida ports to stations in Marion and Martin counties.

Troopers were also escorting trucks from Georgia to stations in Perry, which is located in north Central Florida.

10:45 a.m.

As thousands of Florida residents begin evacuating and others hunker down to ride out approaching monster Hurricane Irma, SpaceX has stuck with its long-planned launch of a super-secret Air Force space shuttle.

An unmanned Falcon rocket blasted off Thursday from Florida's Kennedy Space Center. It's the fifth flight for one of these crewless mini shuttles, known as the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle.

The two Air Force space planes have already logged a combined 5 1/2 years in orbit. But officials won't say what the spacecraft are doing up there. The last mission lasted almost two years and ended with a May touchdown at the runway formerly used by NASA's space shuttles.

As usual, SpaceX aims to land its leftover booster back at Cape Canaveral for eventual reuse.

This is the first time SpaceX has provided a lift for the experimental mini-shuttle.

10 a.m.

More than 1 million people in Puerto Rico are without power -- nearly 70 percent of customers of Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority. Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Thursday that crews are investigating and until they know the extent of the damage, "it will be difficult to estimate how long the power outage will last."

Rossello added that ports on the island are still closed, and it's unclear when commercial flights will resume.

Schools and government offices are scheduled to reopen on Monday.

9:50 a.m.

American Airlines is preparing to shut down operations across Florida as Hurricane Irma approaches.

Officials said in a news release that the airline will cease operations at its Miami hub as well as in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Fort Myers on Friday afternoon.

The final flight to leave Miami International Airport is scheduled to take off for Dallas at 3:49 p.m. Friday.

Operations will cease at Orlando International Airport at 2 p.m. on Saturday and airline officials said they will continue to monitor conditions at other airports in Florida.

Resumption of service will depend upon airport and roadway conditions and the ability of crew members to get to work.

9 a.m.

Airports in the Bahamas are shutting down with the approach of Hurricane Irma.

The government says the international airport in Nassau will close late Thursday and it urges people who plan to leave the island chain east of Florida to check with airlines for space.

Grand Bahama's airport and the less-populated island throughout the chain will close by noon Friday.

Hurricane Irma has cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least 10 dead and thousands homeless. The storm could also make a catastrophic strike on Florida.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center predicted Irma would remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it passes just to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, nears the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night and skirts Cuba on Friday night into Saturday.

It will then likely head north toward Florida, where people were rushing to board up homes, fill cars with gasoline and find a route to safety.

9 a.m.

President Donald Trump is urging people to "be careful, be safe" during Hurricane Irma.

In a tweet Thursday morning, Trump remarked that Irma "is raging but we have great teams of talented and brave people already in place and ready to help."

Trump asked people to "be careful, be safe!"

Hurricane Irma has cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least 10 dead and thousands homeless. The storm could also make a catastrophic strike on Florida.

Trump said Wednesday that the storm "looks like it could be something that could be not good, believe me, not good."

8:15 a.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron says France is "grief-stricken" by the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, and he's calling for concerted efforts to tackle global warming and climate change to prevent similar future natural disasters.

Speaking Thursday during a visit to Greece, Macron said the planet's situation must be stabilized and that leaders must make take steps to combat global warming "so we can avoid such natural disasters in the future."

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told Franc Info that at least eight people died and another 23 were injured when the monstrous Category 5 storm walloped the French Caribbean island territories of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy. That number is expected to rise.

7:50 a.m.

The Florida Highway Patrol says troopers are monitoring the high volume of traffic heading north on Florida's Turnpike as people leave South Florida.

In a news release Thursday, the highway patrol said extra troopers, road rangers and wreckers will be on the roadways to help drivers whose vehicles have become disabled.

The agency says disabled vehicles left on the shoulders of the highways would be towed starting Thursday morning to make it easier for emergency workers who are trying to reach crash victims.

Turnpike officials are also using cameras along the road to monitor conditions.

7:15 a.m.

The Dutch Ministry of Defense says two military aircraft will fly to the Caribbean island of Curacao on Thursday afternoon loaded with relief supplies and troops to help authorities on former Dutch colony St. Maarten recover from the devastation of Hurricane Irma.

The ministry says the troops being sent to the region "can also be used to restore public order."

Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk said earlier Thursday that he could not confirm news reports of looting in Saint Maarten, where a curfew is in force in the aftermath of Wednesday's storm.

The ministry says a KDC-10 and a C-130 Hercules are to fly to Curacao from a military air base in the southern Dutch city of Eindhoven. The Hercules will then be used to ferry supplies to St. Maarten because it should be able to land at the badly damaged Princess Juliana Airport

The planes will carry enough food and water to supply the 40,000-strong population for five days.

6:50 a.m.

The U.K. government says Hurricane Irma has inflicted "severe and in places critical" damage to the British overseas territory of Anguilla.

Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan says the Caribbean island took the full force of the category 5 hurricane.

He told lawmakers on Thursday that the British Virgin islands have also suffered "severe damage." On another British territory, Monsterrat, the damage is "not as severe as first thought."

Duncan said the hurricane is expected to hit another British overseas territory, Turks and Caicos, later Thursday.

Britain has dispatched a Royal Navy ship carrying marines and army engineers to the affected islands.

Duncan says there are "unconfirmed reports of a number of fatalities" as a result of the hurricane.

6:45 a.m.

The Dutch prime minister says Category 5 Hurricane Irma was a storm of "epic proportions" when it slammed into the former Dutch colony of Saint Maarten in the Caribbean and is appealing to Dutch citizens to donate to a relief fund set up by the Red Cross.

Speaking Thursday after a meeting of the government's crisis committee, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said there are no reports yet of casualties on the Dutch side of the island. Rutte says the damage is huge, particularly on Saint Maarten, with "widescale destruction of infrastructure, houses and businesses."

He says, "there is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Houses are under water, cars are floating through the streets, inhabitants are sitting in the dark, in ruined houses and are cut off from the outside world."

The Dutch military is readying two aircraft to fly to the region to distribute vital aid to the shattered territory, which is home to some 40,000 people. However, the airport on the Dutch side of the island is badly damaged.

5:35 a.m.

Authorities say at least one person has died in the northeast Caribbean island of Anguilla, raising the death toll of Hurricane Irma to at least 10 as the Category 5 storm roars through the region.

The Caribbean Disaster Management Agency reported the death early Thursday and said 90 percent of roads in Anguilla are impassible.

France's Interior Minister, Gerard Collomb, told Franc Info that at least eight people have died and another 23 were injured in the French Caribbean island territories of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy. That number is expected to rise.

In Barbuda, a 2-year-old child was killed as a family tried to escape a damaged home during the storm.

Authorities are struggling to get aid to small Caribbean islands devastated by the storm's record 185 mph (298 kph) winds.

5:15 a.m.

The eye of Hurricane Irma is moving west-northwest off the Dominican Republic's northern coast as the Category 5 storm continues is destructive path over the Caribbean.

French authorities announced Thursday that at least eight people have died on Saint-Martin.

As of 5 a.m. EDT Thursday, the hurricane was centered about 95 miles (155 kilometers) north of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and is moving at about 17 mph (28 kph) with maximum sustained winds near 180 mph (285 kph).

Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia has prompted a hurricane warning in Mexico in the state of Veracruz. That hurricane is centered about 195 miles (310 kilometers) northeast of Veracruz, Mexico. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the storm is stationary with little overall motion expected though late Thursday.

4:40 a.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron will go to the islands hit by Hurricane Irma as soon as weather conditions permit, after authorities announced at least eight people died on Saint-Martin.

Macron's office said Thursday that the president will travel to France's Caribbean territories "as soon as possible" once immediate rescue operations are complete.

The president of the territorial council, Daniel Gibbs, said on Radio Caraibes International that Saint-Martin is "95 percent destroyed."

The island is part French, part Dutch. The Dutch government is holding a crisis meeting about the damage to its part, St. Maarten.

Damages and casualties were also reported on the nearby French island of Saint-Barthelemy.

4:30 a.m.

Aerial images released by the Dutch Defense Ministry show scenes of utter devastation on the island of St. Maarten in the aftermath of a direct hit by Category 5 Hurricane Irma.

Video, shot from a navy helicopter sent to assess damage Wednesday evening, shows seafront hotels -- a mainstay of the Caribbean island's economy -- with their roofs badly damaged, palm trees stripped of fronds and poolside terraces covered in sand.

The island's airport also was hit hard, with what appeared to be sand washed up to parts of the main terminal and the building's roof extensively damaged. No aircraft were visible on the tarmac. The airport is famous around the world because its runway ends very close to a beach, where tourists can stand and watch landing aircraft skim low overhead.

Streets were largely deserted and littered with debris. At a port area, shipping containers were strewn like children's building blocks. Elsewhere, yachts were shown jumbled together in a small harbor, some overturned or dumped, upside down, onto the shore.

3:15 a.m.

The Dutch government is holding a crisis meeting to discuss its response to the damage inflicted on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, a former Dutch colony, by Hurricane Irma.

Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk said early Thursday that ministers would huddle in The Hague to coordinate the aid operation after initial aerial images taken from a navy helicopter showed the extent of damage to the island.

Plasterk told Dutch NOS radio that there is "an extreme amount of damage, particularly on St. Maarten." He said the government had no confirmed reports yet of casualties, but stressed that communications were proving difficult.

Video images tweeted by the Dutch Defense Ministry and taken from a helicopter flying over the island showed damage to the airport and the dock and seafront areas. Elsewhere, roofs had been blown off by the hurricane that struck Wednesday.

3 a.m.

France's Interior minister says Hurricane Irma has killed at least eight people and left 23 injured on French Caribbean island territories.

Speaking on French radio France Info, Gerard Collomb said the death toll in Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy could be higher because rescue teams have yet to finish their inspection of the islands.

Collomb said Thursday: "The reconnaissance will really start at daybreak."

2:40 a.m.

Hurricane Irma is moving to the northeast of the Dominican Republic after blacking out much of Puerto Rico and raking the U.S. territory with wind and rain.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the Category 5 storm's maximum sustained winds are near 180 mph (290 kph). The hurricane center says some fluctuations in strength are likely during the next day or two but Irma is expected to remain a powerful Category 4 or 5 hurricane.

As of 2 a.m. EDT Thursday, the storm was about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and is moving west-northwest near 16 mph (26 kph).

12:30 a.m.

Hurricane Irma has blacked out much of Puerto Rico as the dangerous Category 5 storm raked the U.S. territory with heavy wind and rain while staying just out to sea

Authorities are also struggling to get aid to small Caribbean islands devastated by the storm's record 185 mph (298 kph) winds earlier Wednesday.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne says nearly every building on Barbuda was damaged when the hurricane's core crossed almost directly over the island early Wednesday and about 60 percent of the island's roughly 1,400 people are homeless.

He says a 2-year-old child was killed as a family tried to escape a damaged home during the storm.

WEDNESDAY

11:40 p.m.

Hurricane Irma is hitting Puerto Rico with heavy rain and powerful winds, and authorities say more than 900,000 people are without power.

Puerto Rico's emergency management agency says more than half the island was without power and nearly 50,000 without water in the U.S. territory.

Authorities in the Caribbean are struggling to get aid to small islands already pounded by the historic storm earlier Wednesday.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said Wednesday nearly every building on Barbuda was damaged when Irma passed overhead and about 60 percent of the island's roughly 1,400 people are homeless.

He says a 2-year-old child was killed as a family tried to escape a damaged home during the storm.

9:50 p.m.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says the state has gotten more than 1,500 calls on a price-gouging hotline in the last two days.

Bondi said Wednesday that many of the calls dealt with complaints about the prices being charged on water, food and gas, although she said people have also called to complain that stores are running out of supplies.

The attorney general also said she had been talking directly to retailers such as Amazon. Bondi says the state has received complaints about excessive delivery fees for items such as water. She says the company has told her it suspended 12 third-party vendors because of gouging complaints.

Bondi, who noted she has no authority over airlines, said she talked to two airlines about ticket prices and that both told her they were putting caps on some tickets.

8:30 p.m.

The tourist board for the Caribbean island of Anguilla says the major resorts on the island survived a hit from Hurricane Irma but many private homes have been damaged.

It also says that the airport did not sustain any major damage but that it remains closed along with two ports.

Irma lashed the small British island territory with heavy wind and rain Wednesday. There were no reports of any deaths from the storm.

8 p.m.

The United Nations says that according to estimates as many as 37 million people could be affected by Hurricane Irma.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. has deployed a humanitarian team to Barbados to work with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency to help hurricane victims, and additional teams are on standby.

Dujarric told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York on Wednesday that U.N. officials in Haiti are supporting the government and have deployed staff to the country's northern departments which are likely to be impacted.

He said U.N. peacekeepers, who are wrapping up their mission, have deployed two units and some engineers to the coastal city of Gonaives to be ready to open the main roads to the north, northeast and northwest.

Dujarric said U.N. military and police officers are also ready to be deployed to support the Haitian National Police.

7:40 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott isn't apologizing for trying to get people to be concerned about Hurricane Irma.

Scott said Wednesday he had not seen comments by radio personality Rush Limbaugh, who suggested that the "panic" caused by Hurricane Irma benefits retailers, the media and politicians seeking action on climate change.

The Republican governor, however, said, "I'm not downplaying it, I believe this is a risk."

During several media appearances during the day Scott emphasized that Hurricane Irma was bigger and stronger than Hurricane Andrew, which caused massive destruction in South Florida in 1992. He strongly urged people to evacuate if asked to do so by local officials.

In the past, Scott has dodged questions on whether climate change is caused by humans, saying that he's "not a scientist."

 7:20 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says he expects the state's gas stations to have fuel within a day.

Scott said Wednesday he is aware that there have been shortages and long lines, but that after talking with fuel retailers his goal is to see the stations restocked with gas by Thursday morning.

Still, the governor urged people to only "take what they need" when they return to gas stations especially if they are not leaving the county that they are living with.

There has been a run on gas and water and other supplies as Floridians await the likely arrival of Hurricane Irma.

Scott has been urging people to evacuate when ordered to do so by local officials. He's also advised residents to have at least three days of food and water once the storm hits.

7:05 p.m.

The Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Escape, which was supposed to return to Miami on Saturday, is hustling to get back ahead of schedule because of the incoming Hurricane Irma.

The 4,248-passenger, Miami-based vessel is now expected to dock Thursday afternoon.

The ship left Miami on Sept. 2 for what was supposed to be a seven-day trip.

Passengers can choose to either disembark in Miami on Thursday or stay on the ship, as the Norwegian Escape will then sail somewhere out of harm's way. It will return to port possibly Tuesday or Wednesday.

Norwegian says all passengers will get a partial refund and a 25 percent future cruise credit. Guests who have to pay fees to change their flights will also receive a reimbursement of up to $300 per person.

___

6:20 p.m.

Officials say the many construction cranes up at sites around South Florida pose a serious threat if they are toppled in a powerful hurricane.

Maurice Pons, the deputy director of Miami's building department, says there about two dozen such cranes — which have heavy counterbalances on their arms — in the city of Miami alone.

He says the cranes were built to withstand winds up to 145 miles per hour, but not a Category 5 storm, which Hurricane Irma currently is.

 

Pons said in a news release that he would "not advise staying in a building next to a construction crane during a major hurricane like Irma."

6:05 p.m.

The director of Puerto Rico's emergency management agency says the eye of Hurricane Irma is expected to be 35 miles (56 kilometers) from San Juan at 7 p.m. EST.

Abner Gomez says wind gusts of up to 100 mph (160 kph) could reach Puerto Rico's capital.

More than 600,000 people are without power and nearly 50,000 without water on Puerto Rico. Fourteen hospitals are using generators after losing power, and trees and lights posts are strewn across some roads.

The tiny island of Culebra currently reporting sustained winds of 88 mph and wind gusts of 110 mph.

___

5:55 p.m.

The State Department is ordering some U.S. government personnel in the Bahamas to leave the Caribbean island chain ahead of the arrival of powerful Hurricane Irma.

As the storm pounded islands in the northeastern Caribbean on Wednesday, the department also moved to draw down its presence in several other area nations and warned Americans to reconsider any planned travel there.

The State Department ordered non-essential staff and the family members of American employees at the U.S. Embassy in Nassau to depart as Irma bore down with heavy rain and historic winds that could lead to life-threatening floods, mud slides and storm surges that could disrupt travel and government services.

Earlier, the department said it would allow U.S. personnel and their families to leave Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti at government expense.

___

5:25 p.m.

The government has confirmed one death on Barbuda caused by Hurricane Irma.

Midcie Francis, spokesperson for National Office of Disaster Services for Antigua and Barbuda, says there has been massive destruction on the island of about 1,700 people.

"A significant number of the houses have been totally destroyed," said Lionel Hurst, the prime minister's chief of staff.

The strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever measured destroyed homes and flooded streets across a chain of small islands in the northern Caribbean, passing directly over Barbuda which was left largely incommunicado.

___

5 p.m.

Hurricane Katia has formed in the Gulf off the coast of Mexico with sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph). The government of Mexico has issued a hurricane watch for the coast of the state of Veracruz from Tuxpan to Laguna Verde.

Katia is anticipated to drift toward the coast on Thursday.

The announcement of Hurricane Katia came minutes after the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Hurricane Jose had formed in the open Atlantic, far from land and well east of Hurricane Irma.

 

Jose has winds of 75 mph (120 kph) and is quickly strengthening, but poses no immediate threat to land.

4:15 p.m.

University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy says Irma "could easily be the most costly storm in U.S. history, which is saying a lot considering what just happened two weeks ago" in Texas.

And former hurricane hunter Jeff Masters says both high winds and large storm surges will damage expensive properties from Miami all the way up the Florida peninsula and beyond. That includes President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. Masters says that if Irma "goes right up the Gold Coast like the current models are saying, then the Gold Coast is going to become the Mud Coast."

The National Hurricane Center's latest long-term forecast moved Irma's northward track slightly eastward from the center of the peninsula, but that doesn't mean much. Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen says people should "stop paying attention to the skinny black line," because the margin-of-error for the storm four days out is wider than the entire state of Florida, so things can change.

Bottom line, Feltgen says, is that nobody in Florida is off the hook.

4:10 p.m.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it is preparing to shut down two Florida nuclear plants that could be in the path of Hurricane Irma. Additional inspectors are on-site at the Turkey Point plant south of Miami, and the St. Lucie plant along the state's eastern coast.

NRC spokesman Roger Hannah says both nuclear plants are preparing for the storm, checking to ensure any outside equipment is tied down or moved and emergency generators are working and secure.

Hannah said both plants were operating as usual Wednesday, with plans to shut down if necessary ahead of the hurricane's expected landfall in Florida late Saturday or early Sunday.

 

Current projections place Turkey Point, above the Florida Keys near Homestead, Florida, directly in the hurricane's path.

4 p.m.

If Hurricane Irma churns northward over the Florida peninsula, the water in Lake Okeechobee could impact flooding downstream.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking precautions by drawing down water levels ahead of the storm, and they'll be watching closely once it passes. Engineers are inspecting the Herbert Hoover Dike, and will inspect again once the water levels approach 17 feet. The lake level is currently less than 14 feet.

 

The South Florida Water Management District also has begun lowering water levels in canals, trying to move as much water as possible through flood control structures in preparation for the storm.

3:45 p.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron says he expects that victims and heavy damages will be discovered when Hurricane Irma has left the islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy in the French West Indies.

Speaking at a crisis center set up at the Interior Ministry, Macron told reporters Wednesday night that while if it's too early to give a precise toll and figures, he can already say "the toll will be harsh and cruel."

Macron said there will be victims and that "the material damage on both islands is considerable."

Saint Barthelemy is a French overseas island in the West Indies while nearby Saint Martin is a half-French half-Dutch island.

3:40 p.m.

Here's the latest on evacuation orders from Gov. Rick Scott's office:

Visitors must leave the Florida Keys now under a mandatory evacuation order. Residents must evacuate starting Wednesday evening under Monroe County's mandatory order.

Broward County has issued voluntary evacuations of mobile homes and low-lying areas. Collier County has issued voluntary evacuations of Marco Island. In Miami-Dade County, individuals with special needs began evacuating Wednesday morning.

Additional evacuations are expected throughout the state. All Floridians should pay close attention to local alerts and follow the directions of local officials. To find available shelters by county, visit floridadisaster.org/shelters.

3:30 p.m.

People with active warrants in one Florida county might want to think twice about heading to a shelter for Hurricane Irma.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd posted on his official Twitter account Wednesday that deputies will be checking identification at the county's shelters, and anyone with a warrant will be arrested and taken to "the safe and secure shelter called the Polk County Jail."

Judd also posted that sex offender and sex predators would not be admitted to the shelters.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Carrie Horstman says they're trying to educate the public before the storm hits this weekend. She says they're hoping people with warrants will turn themselves and use the next few days to deal with their legal issues.
 

3:15 p.m.

Gov. Rick Scott says his administration "is looking at all possible avenues to get as many people out as possible" ahead of Hurricane Irma.

He estimates that 25,000 people have already evacuated from the Florida Keys. He says that if local officials tell people to evacuate, that means it is not safe to stay.

He says "I cannot stress this enough. Do not ignore evacuation orders. Remember: You can rebuild your home. You cannot rebuild your life."

He says Irma is extremely dangerous and deadly, and everyone should pay close attention to the hurricane's progress.
 

3:05 p.m.

People evacuating the Miami area now, days ahead of Hurricane Irma, may be driven by memories of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Andrew 25 years ago.

Researcher Jennifer Collins at the University of South Florida's School of Geosciences says it's not an exaggeration to say that people who remember Andrew are picturing total devastation that could come from Irma.

Meanwhile in Tampa, which wasn't affected by Andrew, she says "people are preparing like crazy, and all the stores are out of everything."

Collins says her research shows that people with strong support networks can be the least likely to evacuate, even to stay with friends and family far inland, because they felt more comfortable hunkering down with their neighbors. Her surveys found that people without neighbors to depend on were more likely to flee. And she says those who did stay ended up regretting it because the damage was worse than they expected.

2:35 p.m.

Florida law prohibits extreme price hikes for commodities such as food, water, hotels and lumber in the event of a potentially catastrophic storm like Hurricane Irma. But Florida law doesn't cover airlines tickets -- that's up to federal regulators. And some people are shocked at what they call sky-high price-gouging.

Steve MacQueen was shocked to learn he had to pay $1,725 to fly his 87-year-old mother from Fort Myers to Charlotte, North Carolina on Thursday. He says he understands "the price is always ghastly" when you buy at the last minute, but not this bad.

He paid anyway to make sure his mother could stay with his sister in North Carolina. He now lives in Vermont, but as a former Floridian, he says the looming storm terrifies him.

2:20 p.m.

The Netherlands is urging the United Nations and its 193 member states to provide assistance and show compassion with people in the Caribbean suffering from the impact of Hurricane Irma.

Dutch U.N. Ambassador Karel van Oosterom made the appeal during a General Assembly meeting Wednesday on protecting civilians in conflict. He said the eye of the hurricane passed right over Sint Maarten, one of four countries in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

He said the hurricane earlier hit two special municipalities of the Netherlands located in the Caribbean Sea, Sint Eustatius and Saba.

Van Oosterom said "first information indicates that a lot of damage has been done but communication is still extremely difficult."

He called for "compassion with the people in the region who are suffering right at this moment, to show solidarity, and to provide assistance where necessary."

2:15 p.m.

A Georgia speedway is opening its vast campgrounds to people evacuating from Hurricane Irma.

Atlanta Motor Speedway officials said in a statement Wednesday that its tent and RV campgrounds will host evacuees free of charge beginning on Thursday.

The speedway is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Atlanta, and typically handles thousands of race fans who camp on the grounds during its annual NASCAR race weekend.

2 p.m.

There are long lines and crowds at gas stations in Key Largo, but traffic is moving northbound as people evacuate the Florida Keys.

Bill Duclo says Hurricane Irma "is going to be pretty bad," so he wants "to get going while the going is good." He's taking his whole family to Georgia.

Michelle Reynolds says she's got half a tank of gas, and will keep looking since the station she stopped at ran empty.

She says she's never experienced a Category 5 storm and just wants to get to higher ground.

Ian Craig says that gasoline seems to be running out everywhere in the Keys, but he's not going to stay with his 7-year-old boy, even if he has to take a long expensive ride on Uber.

1:45 p.m.

People in Florida are getting mixed messages on whether and when to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Broward County has just ordered coastal evacuations, mandatory but with no enforcement, as is typical in Florida.

Miami Beach has advised evacuating, but not made it mandatory.

Miami-Dade County says it may start ordering evacuations today, but has not done so yet.

And Florida Gov. Rick Scott says anyone who intends to evacuate should "get out now."

However, with a storm track forecast up the middle of the state, it is unclear to many people where they should go.

1:30 p.m.

Britain is sending a Royal Navy ship to the region struck by Hurricane Irma to provide humanitarian assistance and is also sending aid experts to the region.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel said Wednesday the ship will carry Royal Marines and Army engineers along with water purification equipment and other support items.

She said, "The thoughts of the British people are with those affected by Hurricane Irma and Britain has already taken swift action to respond."

1:20 p.m.

Dutch authorities are trying to gauge the extent of damage in Saint Maarten from Hurricane Irma, but officials say it appears to be significant.

Saint Maarten is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and shares an island with the French territory of St. Martin. The island is east of Puerto Rico.

Dutch Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk says the damage wreaked on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten by Category 5 Hurricane Irma is "enormous."

Dutch Caribbean coast guard spokesman Roderick Gouverneur says coast guard officials in Curacao have lost communication with their base in Sint Maarten.

Plasterk told reporters in The Hague on Wednesday that the damage caused by Irma's direct hit on the island "is so major that we don't yet have a full picture, also because contact is difficult at the moment."

He says it remains unclear if Irma caused casualties.

About 100 troops are on the island helping local authorities assess damage and repair vital infrastructure in the storm's aftermath. Two navy ships are also steaming to the island to offer help.

1 p.m.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the eye of Hurricane Irma is passing over the British Virgin Islands.

It says a wind gust of up to 110 mph (177 kph) has been reported a little to the west at Buck Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

At 1 p.m. local time, the storm was centered about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of St. Thomas and 105 miles (170 kilometers) east of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

It was moving to the west at 16 mph (26 kph)

12:50 p.m.

Help is already on its way to wherever Hurricane Irma does the most damage in Florida.

About 80 members of an elite search and rescue team from Virginia have been deployed to jump into the aftermath. Fairfax County's Urban Search and Rescue Team, also known as Virginia Task Force 1, left Wednesday for Mobile, Alabama, where they will stage until they know where they're needed. The team was activated by the Federal Emergency Management Administration and includes swift-water rescue specialists, canine units and other search-and-rescue resources.

Also preparing to respond are more than 100 Florida Forest Service personnel, using aircraft, off-road vehicles and mobile command posts to assist in any search and rescue missions, debris clearing, distribution of supplies and other aid. State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says help is ready but meanwhile, all Floridians should "complete their preparations and finalize their plans before it's too late."

12:40 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says the state is working to get gasoline to areas experiencing shortages in advance of Hurricane Irma.

Scott announced in Miami that he's asked the governors of Alabama and Georgia to waive trucking regulations so tankers can get fuel into the state.

He told residents of the Florida Keys that "we're doing everything to get fuel to you as quickly as possible." Tourists are under a mandatory evacuation order, which began Wednesday morning.

Residents will then be ordered to evacuate, but many gas stations across southern Florida are experiencing shortages.

Scott said, "We will get you out." But he's urging people to move quickly if they plan on evacuating, calling Irma a "life-threatening storm."

"Do not sit and wait for this storm to come," Scott said. "Get out now."

12:35 p.m.

Among the people hunkered down ahead of Hurricane Irma is Richard Branson, the head of the Virgin Group.

Branson owns small Necker island in the British Virgin Islands and he's posted a blog entry saying he and friends have "experienced a night of howling wind and rain as Hurricane Irma edges ever closer."

He says "the atmosphere is eerie but beautiful."

Like many in the region, Branson says he and his group will shelter indoors as the storm hits, though his guests may have it better than most. They're headed for a concrete wine cellar.

He adds: "I suspect there will be little wine left in the cellar when we all emerge."

12:30 p.m.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long says housing built after 2001 in Florida should by law have been built to withstand the winds of a Category 3 Hurricane. Irma is currently Category 5, much stronger than that, but Long says those building codes may at least help mitigate structural damage.

Long told "CBS This Morning" that is main concern right now is that people may have too much faith in the five-day forecast. He says he never puts a lot of confidence in these longer-term forecasts, because a hurricane can turn. He says "everybody needs to be monitoring this in the Gulf and up the East Coast and watching this very carefully."

12:20 p.m.

No. 22 Florida is moving its game against Northern Colorado on Saturday up to a noon kickoff.

The game was going to be a 7:30 p.m. start, but the anticipated impact of Hurricane Irma prompted the Gators to make a change.

Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin says with Irma expected to start adversely affecting that part of the state by Saturday evening or Sunday morning, changing the game time gives "people a chance to come to the game and return home before any expected weather or effects hit our area."

Florida has also cancelled a Sunday night women's soccer match against South Florida. Florida's cross country teams will still compete in Jacksonville at the North Florida Invitational, a meet that was originally scheduled for Saturday and now will be run on Thursday night.

North Florida cross country coach Jeff Pigg says "hopefully, running in the meet will allow the student-athletes a moment to take their minds off the hurricane."

Meanwhile, No. 10 Florida State has moved its game against Louisiana-Monroe up to a noon kickoff on Saturday out of concern for Hurricane Irma's expected wrath, and the NHL's Florida Panthers are canceling their plans to play in a prospect tournament in southwest Florida this weekend.

The Seminoles were originally set to play a night game Saturday.

FSU President John Thrasher says the earlier start time "will give ULM the opportunity to travel safely after the game, and provide many of our fans a chance to come to the game and return home in time to make any necessary preparations."

The Panthers were scheduled to be in a four-team tournament in Estero, Florida. The team will close its offices on Thursday afternoon in anticipation of the storm.

The Panthers' home arena, the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, will be a tactical operation site for Florida Power and Light during the storm.

12:30 p.m.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long says housing built after 2001 in Florida should by law have been built to withstand the winds of a Category 3 Hurricane. Irma is currently Category 5, much stronger than that, but Long says those building codes may at least help mitigate structural damage.

Long told "CBS This Morning" that is main concern right now is that people may have too much faith in the five-day forecast. He says he never puts a lot of confidence in these longer-term forecasts, because a hurricane can turn. He says "everybody needs to be monitoring this in the Gulf and up the East Coast and watching this very carefully."

12:15 p.m.

The National Weather Service director says his staff is "very worried about the impact of winds and surge on the Keys" as Hurricane Irma approaches.

Director Louis Uccellini says all the hazards will be dangerous with Irma -- that means the storm surge, high winds and heavy rain.

He says "very strong winds can do a lot of damage" in an urban environment like South Florida.

The key for Florida and the U.S. east coast is when and where Irma makes a "right turn" and heads north. He says where that happens "depends on a low pressure system over the Great Lakes region."

To figure all this out, the weather service is using its newest satellite and launching 49 new balloons to gather information for computer models.

12:00 p.m.

National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini says Hurricane Irma is so record-breaking strong it's impossible to hype.

Uccellini told The Associated Press on Wednesday he's concerned about Florida up the east coast to North Carolina, starting with the Florida Keys.

He warns that "all the hazards associated with this storm" are going to be dangerous.

 

Hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel of MIT calculates that Irma holds about 7 trillion watts — about twice the energy of all bombs used in World War II.

11:50 a.m.

A Dutch navy spokeswoman says that marines who flew to three islands hammered by Hurricane Irma have seen a lot of damage, but have no immediate reports of casualties.

The Category 5 storm made a direct hit Wednesday on the island where the Dutch territory of St. Maarten is located, though the scope of damage isn't yet clear. Some 100 Dutch marines flew to the islands on Monday to prepare for the hurricane.

Navy spokeswoman Karen Loos says that some troops were able to send images of destruction from St. Maarten and another island, St. Eustatius.

Loos says, "You do see there is a lot of damage. Trees, houses, roofs that are blown out. A lot of water, high water."

She says the extent of the damage elsewhere on the island is not yet clear.

The first of two Dutch naval vessels heading for the islands is expected to arrive at 8 p.m. local time in St. Maarten.

11:30 a.m.

President Donald Trump says Hurricane Irma looks like "something that could be not good."

Ahead of a meeting with Congressional leaders Wednesday, Trump said the group had a lot to discuss, including what "seems to be record-breaking hurricane heading right toward Florida and Puerto Rico and other places."

Trump says "we'll see what happens." He adds: "it looks like it could be something that could be not good, believe me not good."

Hurricane Irma is the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history. It made its first landfall in the islands of the northeast Caribbean early Wednesday. Trump has declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

9:55 a.m.

President Donald Trump's homeland security adviser says the government can handle Hurricane Irma relief because the life-saving phase for Hurricane Harvey is over and has entered a longer term phase focused on individuals.

Tom Bossert tells The Associated Press that the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas are not being forgotten as Irma hits the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and possibly Florida later this week. He says those in the path of the newest storm should heed evacuation orders.

For Harvey, he says the government is working on longer-term assistance, such as Small Business Administration loans, unemployment wages and reconstruction.

9:40 a.m.

The U.S. State Department is warning U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to Cuba, Haiti or the Dominican Republic due to the expected impact of Hurricane Irma.

It notes that the Category 5 storm could bring life-threatening flooding, flash flooding, mudslides, and storm surge, while travel and other services will likely be disrupted.

The department says it has authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and their family members from the three countries due to the hurricane.

9:20 a.m.

Lawyers for a Florida man scheduled to be executed want a delay in last-minute court proceedings due to the threat of Hurricane Irma.

Martin McClain said in a motion filed Wednesday that he and other lawyers representing Michael Ray Lambrix live in the expected path of the Category 5 storm. He said the attorneys need time to help their families get ready. McClain in his motion said that the state is expected to oppose the delay.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Friday scheduled Lambrix's execution for Oct. 5.

The 57-year-old Lambrix, also known as Cary Michael Lambrix, was convicted of the 1983 killings of Clarence Moore and Aleisha Bryant. Prosecutors say he killed them after an evening of drinking at his trailer near LaBelle, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Fort Myers.

8:55 a.m.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne says the twin-island nation appears to have weathered its brush with Hurricane Irma.

Browne says in a statement that there were no deaths in Antigua.

He says that preliminary reports also indicate there are no deaths in Barbuda despite widespread reports of damaged buildings and downed trees. He plans to visit as soon as possible.

The prime minister says the airport will reopen at 2 p.m.

8:45 a.m.

Hurricane Irma tore off rooftops and knocked out all electricity on the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy and France has requisitioned planes and sent in emergency food and water rations.

The regional authority for Guadeloupe and neighboring islands said in a statement Wednesday that the fire station in Saint Barthelemy is under 1 meter (more than 3 feet) of water and no rescue vehicles can move.

It said the government headquarters Saint Martin is partially destroyed and the island is in a total blackout.

Electricity is also partially down on the larger island of Guadeloupe, where the threat receded despite danger of heavy flooding.

French minister for overseas territories Annick Girardin expressed fear "for a certain number of our compatriots who unfortunately didn't want to listen to the protection measures and go to more secure sites."

She added: "We're preparing for the worst."

7:50 a.m.

Key West International Airport is preparing to close as Hurricane Irma approaches the island chain.

Officials said in a news release that the airport will close Wednesday night due to the Transportation Security Administration's security checkpoint ceasing the screening of passengers.

The final flight out of the Keys, Delta Flight 567, is scheduled to depart for Atlanta at 5:50 p.m. Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said in a news release that all commercial flights will then be canceled until further notice.

General aviation flights will continue from Key West and the Florida Keys Marathon International Airport until conditions become unsafe to operate. However international general aviation flights will end Wednesday afternoon when U.S. Customs and Border Protection ceases operations.

7:20 a.m.

President Donald Trump says his administration is closely watching Hurricane Irma.

On Twitter, Trump says his "team, which has done, and is doing, such a good job in Texas, is already in Florida." He adds: "No rest for the weary!"

In a subsequent statement on Twitter, Trump says "Hurricane looks like largest ever recorded in the Atlantic!"

Hurricane Irma made its first landfall in the islands of the northeast Caribbean early Wednesday. It's on a path toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.

Trump has declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

7:10 a.m.

Expect to wait in line for gasoline in South Florida -- if you can find a station that still has gas.

Lines stretched around 50 cars deep at a gas station in Cooper City, which is southwest of Fort Lauderdale, by 5:30 a.m. Wednesday. The station had been out of fuel on Tuesday night, but received an overnight delivery.

Workers at a station in Doral, near Miami, put yellow caution tape around pumps Wednesday morning after running out of gasoline. Local news outlets reported both long lines and stations that had no gas across South Florida.

5:55 a.m.

The plane flying Pope Francis to Colombia is flying a changed flight path to avoid Hurricane Irma, which is slamming the Caribbean.

The special Alitalia jetliner, which departed late Wednesday morning from Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport, had been originally scheduled to fly over Puerto Rico and Venezuela before entering Colombia airspace. Instead, the revised route takes it south of the U.S. territory and includes flying over Barbados, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Vatican traditionally issues telegrams of papal greetings to nations he flies over while on pilgrimages. So the updated flight plan meant the Vatican had to draft new telegrams.

Francis' pilgrimage to Colombia is aimed at helping to solidify the South American nation's peace process. He returns to Rome on Sept. 11.

5 a.m.

As Hurricane Irma continues to roar across the Caribbean on a path toward Florida, a new tropical storm has formed in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tropical Storm Katia formed early Wednesday off the coast of Mexico.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Katia's maximum sustained winds are near 40 mph (65 kph) with some strengthening forecast over the next two days. But the hurricane center says Katia is expected to stay offshore through Friday morning.

The storm is centered about 105 miles (165 kilometers) east of Tampico, Mexico, and is moving east-southeast near 2 mph (4 kph).

4 a.m.

French authorities have ordered inhabitants to remain confined to their house and not go out under any circumstances in the French Caribbean islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy because of Hurricane Irma.

The French ministry of Interior has issued the highest possible alert for both islands of French overseas because they appear to be in the middle of the path of the dangerous Category 5 storm.

Schools, public services and ports have been closed.

Authorities recommend the population stay in the safest room of the house and get prepared for power cuts and disruption in the supply of water.

Two other French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique have been placed under a more moderate alert.

3:20 a.m.

Officials in the island chain south of the Florida mainland are expected to announce evacuations as Hurricane Irma moves west through the Caribbean toward the state.

Officials in the Florida Keys say they expect to announce a mandatory evacuation for visitors starting Wednesday and for residents starting Thursday.

The Category 5 hurricane is expected to reach Florida by the weekend. On Wednesday morning it was about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Antigua.

People in South Florida raided store shelves, buying up water and other hurricane supplies. Long lines formed at gas stations and people pulled shutters out of storage and put up plywood to protect their homes and businesses.

2 a.m.

The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history has made its first landfall in the islands of the northeast Caribbean.

The National Weather Service said the eye of Hurricane Irma passed over Barbuda around 1:47 a.m. Residents said over local radio that phone lines went down as the eye passed.

The National Hurricane Center said Irma was maintaining Category 5 strength with sustained winds near 185 mph (295 kmh) and heading west-northwest on a path toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.

TUESDAY

10:15 p.m.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis says his government has ordered a mandatory evacuation of islands in the southern part of the island chain because of Hurricane Irma.

Minnis says the Category 5 storm poses a dire threat to the islands of Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay and Ragged Island.

People who live on the islands will be flown Wednesday to Nassau on the island of New Providence. Minnis says it will be the largest hurricane evacuation in the history of the Bahamas.

People who don't evacuate will be at "great danger" from storm surge caused by what he called a "monster" hurricane. Minnis says emergency personnel may not be available to rescue them when the storm is at its height between Thursday and Friday.

8:10 p.m.

President Donald Trump has declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as Hurricane Irma prepares for landfall.

The declarations authorize the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts in those places.

The dangerous Category 5 storm is wielding the most powerful winds ever recorded for a storm in the Atlantic Ocean. It is on a path that could take it toward Florida over the weekend.

Irma's size and strength put the entire state on notice Tuesday. Residents and visitors prepared to leave in anticipation of catastrophic winds and floods.

Puerto Rico's governor is also warning that the effects of Hurricane Irma could be catastrophic and calling the storm more dangerous than Hurricane Harvey.

____

7:20 p.m.

Puerto Rico's governor is warning that the effects of Hurricane Irma could be catastrophic, calling the storm more dangerous even than Hurricane Harvey, which recently devastated Houston.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Tuesday that the "dangerousness of this system" has never been seen in Puerto Rico.

In his words: "It is much more dangerous than Harvey. The results could be catastrophic and devastating."

Rossello says the winds of the Category 5 storm will lash Culebra island around dawn Wednesday and move to Puerto Rico shortly afterward. He says the U.S. territory's northeast coast will feel the brunt.

___

7 p.m.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is releasing water from Florida's Lake Okeechobee in preparation for Hurricane Irma's expected arrival in the state this weekend.

Spokesman John Campbell said Tuesday the plan is to drain the lake for three days to drop its current level of almost 14 feet.

The corps says Irma could add a foot of water directly to the lake as it passes and then 3 feet of runoff in the coming weeks. The corps tries to keep the lake below 16 feet and worries about the stability of the Hoover Dike, which surrounds the lake, if it exceeds 18 feet.

Most of current dike was built in the 1960s. It averages 30 feet in height. Failures of the original embankments during hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 killed over 3,000 people when waters flooded neighboring towns. About 40,000 people live nearby today.

The dike has been undergoing a $1.7 billion improvement plan that should be finished in the mid-2020s.

6:30 p.m.

People in the Florida Keys are putting up hurricane shutters and wooden boards on homes and businesses as powerful Hurricane Irma approaches the Caribbean on a path that could take it to the U.S. by the weekend.

Trucks are hauling away boats and people are packing in preparation for leaving. Houses in the Keys stand at sea level, with parts of the main road to the Florida mainland going dangerously low.

At a trailer park, Janet Roberts was getting ready Tuesday to head to her daughter's house in Florida City on the mainland after officials ordered residents and tourists to evacuate the area.

Roberts says she is terrified, saying she lost everything when Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992. In her words, "This has Andrew beat. This is really bad, really, really, really bad."

4:35 p.m.

Some small Caribbean islands are bracing for a big hit from Hurricane Irma.

Forecasters say those in the path of the Category 5 storm include tiny Anguilla as well as the islands of Barbuda and Anegada. All will be near or directly in the path of Irma.

Anguilla is British Island territory of about 15,000 people. It is a low-lying island known for its smooth sandy beaches.

Authorities are expecting the eye of Irma to pass directly over Anguilla early Wednesday.

Disaster Management agency Director Melissa Meade says Anguilla is expecting the full force of the storms with winds of 185 mph. They also expect storm surge and flooding.

Meade says four shelters are opening on the island Tuesday though people tend to stay with friends and family.

4:10 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is ordering the suspension of road tolls across the state as Hurricane Irma continues its ominous move toward the region.

Scott says tolls will be suspended to keep traffic flowing as residents begin to evacuate coastal areas in the potential path of the dangerous Category 5 storm.

The governor adds that tolls will remain suspended "for the duration of the storm's impacts to Florida."

Several important Florida highways are toll roads including the Florida Turnpike, which runs from 60 miles north of Orlando all the way to Miami-Dade County.

___

4:05 p.m.

The University of Central Florida has moved its football game against Memphis up a day as a precaution due Hurricane Irma.

The UCF athletic department says the home game will be played Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando.

The American Athletic Conference opener was originally scheduled for Saturday at 8 p.m.

The school also announced Tuesday that there will be no tailgating. Parking lots and the stadium will open for fans at 5 p.m.

3:30 p.m.

Hurricane Irma is the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the Category 5 storm has winds of up to 185 mph (297 kph) as it approaches the Leeward Islands of the northeast Caribbean.

Four other storms have had winds that strong in the overall Atlantic region, but they have been in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico where the usually warmer waters fuel tropical cyclones.

Hurricane Allen hit 190 mph in 1980, while 2005's Wilma, 1988's Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185 mph winds.

Experts say Irma's strength is a result of unusually warm water for that part of the Atlantic.

3:15 p.m.

Miami-Dade County's mayor says residents and visitors should be prepared to evacuate Miami Beach and most of the county's coastal areas as Hurricane Irma heads toward Florida.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez says the voluntary evacuations could begin as soon as Wednesday evening.

Gimenez activated the emergency operation center and urged residents to have three days' worth of food and water. The mayor reminded residents that tap water was a good resource, telling them to fill up bottles with tap water now.

Evacuation will begin Wednesday morning for special needs residents.

All Miami-Dade County offices will be closed Thursday and Friday.

12:30 p.m.

Officials in the Florida Keys are gearing up to get tourists and residents out of the possible path of Hurricane Irma.

Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark says in a news release that a mandatory evacuation for tourists will begin at sunrise Wednesday. An evacuation plan for residents is also under way but a timetable hasn't been determined.

Clark says government offices, parks and schools will close and there will be no shelters in Monroe County. The county's three hospitals are also beginning evacuation plans.

U.S. 1 is only route in and out of the island chain off the southern peninsula of Florida.

Clark says residents and tourists should begin filling their tanks with fuel to prepare to drive to the mainland.
 

12:10 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is activating 100 members of the Florida National Guard to prepare for Hurricane Irma.

Scott says in a statement that the initial 100 troops will be stationed throughout the state. Some 7,000 National Guard members will report to duty Friday, when the storm could be bearing down on Florida.

Scott said Tuesday that the exact path of the storm is still unknown but officials "must prepare for the worst."

On Monday he declared a state of emergency in all of Florida's 67 counties.

Two hurricanes hit the state last year but neither was as powerful as Category 5 Irma is right now.

11:25 a.m.

Antigua's airport has closed with an ominous statement from local authorities as Hurricane Irma approaches the Caribbean island.

The statement from the V.C. Bird International Airport says it is shutting down Tuesday and advises all visitors and residents of the two-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda to seek protection from the "onslaught" of the Category 5 storm.

It closes with: "May God protect us all."

The center of the storm was expected to start passing north of Antigua and near or over Barbuda on Tuesday night.

11:05 a.m.

Tropical Storm Jose has formed in the open Atlantic far from land.

Jose is located to the east of Hurricane Irma, which is a powerful and dangerous storm heading toward Antigua and perhaps the U.S.

Jose is the 10th tropical storm of the season. It has maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph) and is about 1,505 miles east of the Lesser Antilles.

10:55 a.m.

The Dutch government says it is sending about 100 marines to the Caribbean island of St. Maarten to help prepare it and two other small islands for the arrival of Category 5 Hurricane Irma.

The government said Tuesday that the first marines were flown from the island of Aruba to St. Maarten in a coast guard plane. Some then traveled on to St. Eustatius and Saba.

Two Dutch navy ships based in the Caribbean also are sailing toward the islands to provide help assessing damage and repairing vital infrastructure after Irma has passed.

St. Maarten is an independent former Dutch colony that still relies on the Netherlands for defense and foreign relations issues. St. Eustatius and Saba are overseas municipalities of the Netherlands.

St. Maarten has a population of around 37,000, Saba has 2,000 residents and St. Eustatius has about 3,200.

10:45 a.m.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello says he has spoken to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly as he seeks to have a state of emergency declared in the U.S. island territory due to Hurricane Irma.

Rossello thanks Kelly in a tweet for "the attention given to Puerto Rico" as the storm approaches.

Puerto Rico has announced a number of steps in preparation for the storm, including a 24-hour ban on the sale of alcohol starting 6 a.m. Wednesday.

The government has also dispatched inspectors to stores throughout the territory to check for possible price-gouging.

9:50 a.m.

The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands says he has submitted an emergency declaration to the White House due to the approach of Hurricane Irma and is urging residents of the territory to take the storm seriously.

Gov. Kenneth Mapp says in a news briefing that he doesn't want to frighten anyone but that forecasters predict the storm could skirt the territory or even pass directly over it.

Mapp says people in the islands may start to feel the storm's effects around midmorning Wednesday.

8:35 a.m.

American Airlines has added extra flights out of two Caribbean islands to get people out of the path of Hurricane Irma, a powerful Category 5 storm.

The flights were added in St. Maarten and St. Kitts and Nevis. Those are in addition to regularly scheduled flights Tuesday and Wednesday to Miami.

Both islands are part of the northern Leeward Islands and are under a hurricane warning as Irma approaches the region Tuesday.

American says it expects to make additional flight changes as it monitors the storm.

8 a.m.

Hurricane Irma has strengthened into a Category 5 storm as it roared toward the northeast Caribbean on a path toward the U.S.

Irma's maximum sustained winds increased to 175mph (280 kph) early Tuesday. It was centered about 270 miles (440 kilometers) east of Antigua and moving west at 14 mph (22 kph).

Authorities warned that the storm could dump up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain, cause landslides and flash floods and generate waves of up to 23 feet (7 meters). Government officials began evacuations in certain islands.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello warned that all decisions taken in the next couple of hours would make a difference between life and death.

States of emergency were declared in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and all of Florida.

 

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