The Latest: ‘Life-threatening’ winds forecast across Florida



The Latest on Hurricane Irma (all times local):

11:25 a.m.

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.

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11:15 a.m.

U.S. 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.

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11 a.m.

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.

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10:50 a.m.

France has dispatched one of its most impressive military transport planes to assist recovery efforts near the hurricane-battered French overseas islands of St. Martin and St. Bart.

In a statement Saturday, the French army said the four-engine airlifter A400M had taken off from the mainland city of Orleans to the Caribbean with a Puma helicopter, a dozen military and technical personnel and humanitarian cargo.

The fast-approaching Hurricane Jose — which is going to pass just above St. Martin — has meant that all access to and from St. Martin and St. Bart has been halted.

The A400M is expected to arrive at Fort-de-France, the capital of France’s Caribbean overseas department of Martinique, and will remain in the region at least a week to help with hurricane relief work.

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10:40 a.m.

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.

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10:30 a.m.

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.

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10:15 a.m.

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.”

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8:45 a.m.

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.

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8 a.m.

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 U.S. 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.

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7:45 a.m. EDT

Meteorologists say damaging winds are blowing into South Florida as Hurricane Irma approaches.

The National Weather Service said Saturday morning that damaging winds were moving into areas including Key Biscayne, Coral Gables and South Miami. Gusts of up to 56 mph (90 kph) were reported on Virginia Key off Miami as the storm’s outer bands arrived.

The center of the storm was about 245 miles (395 kilometers) southeast of Miami early Saturday as it raked the northern coast of Cuba.

The latest forecast track predicts the center of the storm will move along Florida’s Gulf Coast through Monday.

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6:25 a.m.

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

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6:10 a.m.

France’s Director of Public Safety has held a press conference in Paris on the recovery efforts in the French overseas island territories of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy that are reeling from Hurricane Irma.

Jacques Witkowski said Saturday that “there are 1,100 people, both civilian and military, deployed on the islands” to help with recovery.

But he said they were also tasked with evacuation of residents ahead of another hurricane, Jose, which is expected to violently pummel islands in the Caribbean later on Saturday.

Witkowski said the eye of Hurricane Jose will pass close to the islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy.

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5:20 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center says Irma has weakened slightly to a Category 4 hurricane, as it moves over the Camaguey Archipelago of Cuba.

Irma had briefly regained Category 5 strength late Friday, but now has maximum sustained winds of 155 mph (249 kph). The hurricane is about 245 miles (394 kilometers) from Miami and moving about 12 mph (19.3 kph) toward the west-northwest.

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose is a Category 4 hurricane, about 190 miles (306 kilometers) east-southeast of The Northern Leeward Islands, moving toward the islands at 13 mph (20.92 kph) with winds reaching 150 mph.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia made landfall late Friday north of Tecolutla, Mexico and weakened to a tropical storm. By early Saturday morning it was 135 miles (217 kilometers) south of Tampico, Mexico, moving sluggishly at only 2 mph (3.2 kph) near the Sierra Madre Mountains with maximum winds of 40 mph (64.4 kph). It was expected to weaken further throughout the day.

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3:20 a.m.

Dutch marines have dropped flyers from a helicopter warning beleaguered inhabitants on the devastated nation of St. Maarten to head to shelters as Hurricane Jose barrels through the Caribbean.

Jose, a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds, was forecast to pass close to St. Maarten over the weekend, delivering a second damaging blow to the former Dutch colony that suffered catastrophic damage when Category 5 Hurricane Irma slammed into it on Wednesday.

Peter Jan de Vin, a Dutch military commander on the island of Curacao who is helping coordinate relief efforts on St. Maarten, tweeted a picture Saturday morning of a marine dropping flyers out of a helicopter flying low over one of St. Maarten’s shattered seafront neighborhoods.

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2:20 a.m.

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.

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12:35 a.m.

A newly strengthened Irma is taking aim at south Florida with 160 mph (257 kph) winds after battering Cuba and leaving more than 20 dead across the Caribbean, as another hurricane follows close behind.

Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday. Thousands of people in the Caribbean fought desperately to find shelter or escape their storm-blasted islands, and more than 6 million people in Florida and Georgia were warned to leave their homes.

Many residents and tourists were left reeling after the storm ravaged some of the world’s most exclusive tropical playgrounds, known for their turquoise waters and lush green vegetation. Among them: St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Anguilla.

Irma threatened to push its way northward from one end of Florida to the other beginning Sunday morning.

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