MIAMI (AP) – The Latest on Hurricane Irma (all times eastern):
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Irma 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.