MIAMI: Millions people in Florida are seeking shelter in schools, community centers and churches as Hurricane Irma nears the state.
The government-sponsored shelters were open Saturday as officials warned 6.3 million Floridians to evacuate. The storm was expected to make landfall in Florida on Sunday. Those with nowhere to turn headed to the shelters while others sought lodging at hotels or with friends and family.
Red Cross shelter coordinator Steve Bayer said most people at shelters are grateful and happy.
Steve and Judith Smith of Orlando fled their mobile home and wound up at their local middle school after all the nearby hotels were sold out.
The US Environmental Protection Agency is relaxing pollution controls for emergency and backup power generating facilities in the Florida Keys’ Monroe County to help keep power generated during and after Hurricane Irma.
The agency on Saturday announced its decision in a press release after a request by Florida environmental officials.
The “no action assurance” letter will allow two utility-scale units in the county to operate beyond their typical operating periods.
The EPA said the extra operation may increase pollution, but that the decision is in the public interest given the emergency.
“EPA policy allows the agency to issue no action assurances in cases where it is necessary to avoid extreme risks to public health and safety and where no other mechanism can adequately address the matter,” the agency’s release said.
Forecasters expect winds of more than 110 mph (177 kph) from Hurricane Irma to smack the Florida Keys around daybreak Sunday.
Irma was lingering over the northern Cuba coast on Saturday. Its forward speed has slowed to 9 mph (15 kph) and it has yet to make the expected big northward turn toward Florida yet. Its maximum sustained winds were 125 mph (205 kph).
The US National Hurricane Center’s latest forecast — which still can change a bit and has a margin of error of dozens of miles — projects Irma’s potent eye to make three landfalls into Florida.
First, there’s a projected Sunday morning hit in the Lower Keys. Then later, after moving over water, Irma is expected to come ashore around Cape Coral or Fort Myers. From there it is predicted to steam inland go over the highly populated Tampa Bay region.
After Tampa, Irma is projected to briefly go back out to the Gulf of Mexico and then hit north of Homosassa Springs for a third landfall. In the following days, Irma is forecast to head through Florida and Georgia into Tennessee.
The White House says President Donald Trump and his Cabinet are receiving regular updates on Hurricanes Irma and Jose as they meet at the Camp David presidential retreat.
Elaine Duke, the acting homeland security secretary, is scheduled to provide a full briefing to the president and the rest of his team.
The White House adds that Trump and first lady Melania Trump are keeping everyone who has been affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in their thoughts and prayers. They’re also urging the public to closely follow safety advice from local authorities.
The president and first lady invited all Cabinet members and their spouses to the Maryland retreat for the weekend.
Besides hurricane briefings, the White House says Trump also planned to lead a discussion of the administration’s priorities.
French ministers have decided to step up security on the Caribbean islands of St. Martin and St. Barts that were hit hard by Hurricane Irma and are now facing the approach of Hurricane Jose.
On Friday, looting and gunshots were reported on St. Martin, and a curfew was imposed there and in St. Barts until Wednesday.
According to a statement Saturday, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb is sending two extra gendarme squadrons and some 150 soldiers. They will be there to strengthen checkpoints, reassure the public and prevent further looting and chaos.
One hundred firefighters are also being sent to the islands.
The statement also said that a tanker with water is being sent for residents without clean running water.
Cuban officials say Hurricane Irma has damaged crops in the rural eastern part of the country.
Civil Defense official Gergorio Torres tells reporters that authorities are still trying to tally the extent of the damage in Las Tunas province and nearby areas. He said damage seems to have been concentrated in infrastructure for crops including bananas.
Eastern Cuba is home to the island’s poor, rural population. Once known for sugarcane and other crops, the agricultural industry was declining even before the hurricane.
Video images from northern and eastern Cuba show utility poles and signs uprooted by the storm and many downed trees as well as extensive damage to roofs. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Georgia is bracing for potentially far-flung impacts from Hurricane Irma, which could swamp the coast with storm surge and topple trees and power lines in Atlanta.
The National Hurricane Center placed the entire Georgia coast under a hurricane watch Saturday as residents packed their cars and trickled onto the highways in six counties under a mandatory evacuation. A hurricane watch was also issued for the South Carolina coast from the Georgia line to Edisto Beach, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southwest of Charleston.
Irma’s center is forecast to enter southern Georgia far inland Monday and plow northward as a tropical storm or depression. Emergency officials expect tropical storm winds to reach Georgia’s coast, where storm surges could be amplified by unusually high tides.
The Dutch government estimates 70 percent of houses on St. Maarten were badly damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Irma. That leaves many of the 40,000 residents reliant on public shelters as they brace for Hurricane Jose.
Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk said Saturday that Jose is forecast to track northwest of St. Maarten and will likely dump a lot of rain on buildings, many of which had roofs torn off by Irma.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the situation remains “grim” on the island where widespread looting has broken out.
Rutte says there are some 230 Dutch troops and police patrolling St. Maarten and a further 200 will arrive in coming days. Rutte issued a warning to looters that the troops and police will clamp down hard to end the lawlessness.
Florida’s governor is issuing urgent warnings to a third of his state’s residents to evacuate ahead of a massive hurricane on track to be the state’s most catastrophic ever.
Gov. Rick Scott says the entire west coast of Florida will likely see dangerous affects from storm surge as Hurricane Irma comes ashore Sunday. About 6.3 million of the state’s approximately 21 million residents have been asked to evacuate.
During a Saturday news conference, he told those in evacuation zones: “You need to leave — not tonight, not in an hour, right now“
Scott said that the storm surge is expected to be up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) in some areas along the west coast of Florida. In the Tampa Bay area, Scott said the storm surge could be between 5 feet (1.5 meters) and 8 feet (2 meters).
Scott said: “This is the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen.”
Florida emergency management officials have asked another 700,000 to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma. That brings the total number asked to evacuate multiple states to nearly 7 million.
Florida’s Division of Emergency Management said Saturday that officials have issued a mix of mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders to 6.3 million residents. The number rose overnight as the predicted path of Hurricane Irma has shifted west. It’s likely to come ashore Sunday.
The size and trajectory of the storm has prompted officials to order evacuations along both coasts of Florida, including some of the state’s population centers. Florida is the nation’s third largest state with nearly 21 million residents.
Another 540,000 have been asked to evacuate in the eastern part of Georgia.
In South Carolina, a mandatory evacuation order was issued for eight barrier islands. That includes Hilton Head Island, the most populous of the islands with about 40,000 residents.
Hurricane Irma has weakened to a Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds, but it’s expected to regain its strength before slamming into Florida.
The storm has been pounding Cuba, and forecasters say it will get stronger once it moves away.
Irma is expected to hit the Florida Keys Sunday morning and then Tampa. The National Hurricane Center warned in a Saturday advisory that the storm will bring “life-threatening wind” to much of the state regardless of its exact path.
Forecasters also predict storm surges of up to 15 feet in southwestern Florida and rainfall up to 25 inches in the Keys.
The hurricane warning for Florida’s west coast has been extended to the Aucilla River, just south of Tallahassee, and the watch pushed west to Indian Pass on Florida’s Panhandle.
The hurricane warning for Florida’s east coast has been pushed further north to Fernandina Beach, with the hurricane watch further north to Edisto Beach.
US officials are working to secure some of the nation’s most contaminated toxic waste sites as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida says the EPA personnel he’s spoken with seem “generally positive” about the prospects for toxic sites remaining secure in the coming hurricane. But, as he put it, “they can’t guarantee it 100 percent.”
Rubio spoke with AP from the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center. Florida has Superfund sites on both the east and west coasts. Rubio says EPA officials have been assessing the sites for 72 hours. He says they think the risks to the sites are “real” but not as severe as Houston faced from Harvey, because of the Texas oil industry.
Florida emergency management officials say at least 51,000 residents have hunkered down in approximately 300 shelters ahead of Hurricane Irma.
Most of those staying in shelters are in southeast Florida, which initially looked to be the main target of the storm before the forecast shifted west. More than 15,000 people are in shelters in Palm Beach County while neighboring Broward County has nearly 13,000 people.
The threat of Irma has prompted state and local officials to ask 5.6 million residents to flee ahead of the storm. It’s expected to come ashore Sunday and take aim at the Tampa Bay area.
Officials in the Florida Keys are evacuating some 460 inmates and 125 corrections officers from a jail on Stock Island to a jail in Palm Beach County.
Spokeswoman Becky Herrin said in a news release that Sheriff Rick Ramsey made the decision Friday night because of the changing path of Hurricane Irma. The jail on Stock Island is near Key West on the lower end on the island chain.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is heeding his own advice about Hurricane Irma by evacuating his beachside mansion along the Gulf Coast.
The governor’s office confirmed that Scott’s family, including First Lady Ann Scott, left Naples in southwestern Florida ahead of the dangerous storm. Scott’s daughter, her husband and their grandchildren have also evacuated.
Scott’s mansion is worth approximately $15 million, according to his latest financial disclosure.
As governor, Scott usually splits his time between his mansion and the governor’s mansion located in the state capital, Tallahassee. The multi-millionaire businessman was first elected in 2010.
Residents in the French overseas territories of St. Martin and St. Barts have another hurricane at their doorstep after a devastating blow from Irma.
Hurricane Jose was closing in Saturday. Forecasters expected winds of up to 93 mph (150 kph), along with torrential rains and large waves.
French authorities said Saturday that some 1,105 workers are now deployed St. Martin and St. Barts to help the islands’ recovery. By Saturday, damage estimates from Irma reached the 1.2 billion euro ($1.44 billion) mark — pockmarking the islands that have become famous as lush playgrounds for the rich and famous.
In St. Martin, travel to or from the island has ground to a halt until Jose passes.
Jacques Witkowski is France’s Director of Public Safety. He says the international airport isn’t operational.
The last airplane flew in to the battered Grande-Case de Saint Martin airport Friday. It carried emergency workers to help with reconstruction as well as specialists who aim to re-establish the island’s damaged water and electricity systems.
Florida’s governor is warning residents that storm surge of up to 12 feet in places will inundate houses.
Gov. Rick Scott urged anyone living in an evacuation zone in southwest Florida to leave by noon Saturday as the threat of Hurricane Irma has shifted west.
He says the storm is “going to go faster than you are.”
Scott said 25,000 people in Florida have already lost electricity as Irma’s outer bands have begun hitting the southern part of the state.
The governor also warned of dangerous storm surge of between 6 feet (2 meters) and 12 feet (4 meters) across parts of Florida.
He said: “This will cover your house.”
The National Hurricane Center says the eye of powerful Hurricane Irma is expected to hit southwest Florida and Tampa sometime Sunday, but the entire state will feel the storm’s effects.
Hurricane Center spokesman and meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said Saturday that while Miami won’t get the core of Irma it will still get life-threatening hurricane conditions.
The Category 4 storm pounded Cuba early Saturday with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 kph). It was expected to strengthen before hitting Florida.
Hurricane Irma’s winds have slowed slightly while it rakes Cuba, but the massive storm is expected to strengthen again as it approaches Florida.
The US National Hurricane Center in Miami said Saturday morning that Irma remained a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 kph). Forecasters expect the storm to pick strength back up as it moves away from Cuba.
The storm’s center was about 10 miles (15 kilometers) northwest of Caibarien, Cuba. That’s also about 225 miles (365 kilometers) south of Miami.
Meteorologists say damaging winds from Irma’s outer bands were already arriving in South Florida. The storm was expected to reach the Florida Keys on Sunday morning before moving up the state’s Gulf Coast.
France’s public insurance agency estimates that Hurricane Irma inflicted 1.2 billion euros ($1.44 billion) in damage on infrastructure in the French overseas islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy.
In a statement Saturday, the Caisse Central de Reassurance, France’s public-sector reinsurer that provides coverage for natural disasters, said that amount covers damage to houses, vehicles and businesses.
It added that Hurricane Irma is “one of the biggest natural catastrophes to have occurred in France in 35 years.”
The agency said affected residents have 10 days to make a claim starting from Saturday, when the status of a natural disaster was officially declared
The National Hurricane Center says the eye of Irma is moving over the Camaguey Archipelago of Cuba as a Category 5 hurricane.
The center says Irma made landfall there late Friday and has maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (257 kph). The hurricane is about 275 miles (443 kilometers) from Miami and moving about 12 mph (19.3 kph) toward the west.
In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia made landfall late Friday north of Tecolutla, Mexico and weakened to a tropical storm, with winds reaching 45 mph (72.4 kph).
In the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose is a Category 4 hurricane, about 240 miles (386 kilometers)east-southeast of the Northern Leeward Islands, moving roughly westward at 14 mph (23 kph)with winds reaching 150 mph.