NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — The National Hurricane Center says Irma’s projected path is continuing to shift to the west, just a few crucial miles, that should keep its eye just off Florida’s west coast on a track to hit St. Petersburg, not Miami or even Tampa.
The hurricane’s leading edge was already lashing the Florida Keys with hurricane force winds. If the center of the storm keeps moving over warm Gulf of Mexico water, it may regain more strength before making landfall again.
St. Petersburg, like Tampa, has not taken a head-on blow from a major hurricane in nearly a century. Clearwater would be next, and then the storm would finally go inland northwest of Ocala.
The storm currently has top sustained winds of 120 mph (193 kph) and is moving northward at about 6 mph (10 kph).
More than 170,000 homes and businesses in Florida have lost power and the center of Irma is about 90 miles southeast of Key West.
Florida Power and Light said on its website that more than half of those outages were in the Miami-Dade area, where about 600,000 people have been ordered to evacuate.
The company has said it expects millions of people to lose power, with some areas experiences prolonged outages.
The company said it has assembled the largest pre-storm workforce in U.S. history, with more than 16,000 people ready to respond.
As Irma’s hurricane-force winds started to whip the Florida Keys, the storm stayed at a weakened 120 mph (190 kph) and took slow aim at Florida.
The National Hurricane Center says the storm’s forward motion fell to 6 mph (10 kph) as the storm stuttered off the coast of Cuba. Forecasters say it could still increase in strength, but their forecast didn’t show it.
The hurricane-force wind field stretched well over 100 miles. Forecasters say they are moving the forecast track slight west again.
The National Weather Service says the first hurricane-force wind gust has been recorded in the Florida Keys as Irma inches closer to the state.
The weather service says the Smith Shoal Light station recorded a 74 mph (119 kph) wind gust on Saturday night.
The center of Irma is headed toward the Keys and has sustained winds of 120 mph (193.11 kph).
The U.S. National Hurricane Center says wind gusts near hurricane strength have been recorded in the Florida Keys as the center of Irma moves closer to the state.
Forecasters said Saturday night that Marathon had reported a wind gust of 71 mph (114 kph) and sustained winds of 51 mph (82 kph). Irma is about 105 miles (170 kilometers) southeast of Key West.
It has winds of 125 mph (200 kph).
Prime Minister William Marlin of St. Maarten says about 1,600 tourists who were in the Dutch Caribbean territory have been evacuated and efforts are being made to move 1,200 more.
Marlin says many nations and people have offered help to St. Maarten, but weather conditions will determine how this can be coordinated.
Authorities are still trying to determine the extent of damage to the island, but he said 28 police officers lost homes during Hurricanes Irma and Jose.
The prime minister said Saturday that St. Maarten remains under curfew and looting that took place immediately after the storm has subsided.
Meteorologists say heavy rain squalls spawning tornadoes are hitting South Florida part of Hurricane Irma’s leading edge.
The National Hurricane Center says a hurricane hunter airplane found Irma’s winds dropped from 125 mph to 120 mph, but that’s likely to soon increase again now that the center of the storm is over bathtub-warm water.
Hurricane force winds extend 70 miles (110 kilometers) out from the 30-mile (48-kilometer) wide storm eye.
Marathon International Airport recently reported a sustained wind of 48 mph (77 kilometers per hour) and a gust to 67 mph (108 kilometers per hour).
Hurricane Irma is starting to spin up funnel clouds and at least one tornado, leading to warnings for parts of South Florida.
The National Weather Service in Miami posted on Twitter Saturday evening that a tornado had touched the ground in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Oakland Park. It wasn’t immediately clear how much damaged was caused.
Tornado warnings have been issued for Fort Lauderdale, Coral Springs, Pompano Beach and Sunrise in Broward County, as well as parts of nearby Palm Beach and Hendry Counties.
Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is urging Floridians to be “patient” and not quickly rush back to their homes once Irma passes. He says the massive storm is likely to cause widespread damage and that people should stay away until they are told by local officials that they can return.
The center of Hurricane Irma has now cleared the Cuban coast and entered the Florida Straits, where bathtub-warm water of nearly 90 degrees (32 degrees Celsius) will enable the storm to intensify.
Irma had fallen to a Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds, but National Hurricane Center spokesman and meteorologist Dennis Feltgen says it’s already showing signs at high altitudes of regaining its previous powerhouse strength and becoming better organized.
And because this storm is more than 350 miles (563 kilometers) wide, the Miami area is NOT in the clear just because Irma’s eye is shifting to the west.
The forecasts even have Irma maintaining hurricane strength well into Georgia on Monday.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott says at least 76,000 people are without power as Irma unleashes winds and rain on the state.
Scott said Saturday night that the outages expected to grow as Irma moves closer to the state.
He warned people that the storm is life-threatening.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is telling people that have been ordered to evacuate that now is the time to go.
He says this is the last chance they will have to make a good decision.
The governor says millions of people will see life-threatening winds and storm surge as Irma approaches the state.
President Donald Trump is cautioning people in Irma’s path to “get out of its way” and not worry about possessions.
Trump says property is replaceable but lives are not, and that safety must come first.
He says the nation is grieving for those who’ve been killed by the powerful storm, which spent the week churning its way across the Caribbean, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Hurricane Irma is forecast to hit Florida’s southern coast at daybreak Sunday.
Trump says the U.S. is as prepared as it can be for a storm as monstrous as Irma.
Trump spoke at a weekend Cabinet meeting at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. He posted a brief video of his remarks on Twitter.
More than 75,000 people have flocked to shelters in Florida to escape Hurricane Irma’s potentially deadly winds and storm surge.
The state said Saturday that more than 400 shelters are open, mostly in schools, churches and community centers.
A hectic scene happened outside a minor league hockey arena in southwest Florida, where thousands of people were stuck in line. Some waited for more than five hours to get inside because only two doors were open.
When rain began falling heavily, more doors were open and the 8,400 seat Germain Arena quickly filled.
More than 6 million people have been warned to evacuate.
There’s a wild bunch riding out Hurricane Irma inside the Key West jail.
Just ahead of Hurricane Irma, 426 inmates were evacuated by bus to lockups in Palm Beach County.
Then, things got really wild. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office runs an Animal Farm, housing 250 animals that have been abandoned, abused, confiscated or donated. And with a storm surge threatening to swamp the farm, the sheriff’s office figured the jail cells are much safer for the animals.
The new population of the Key West jail includes Mo the Sloth and Kramer the Emu, along with horses, pigs, goats, sheep, tropical birds, alligators, snakes, turtles and others.
Authorities say they are investigating whether Irma’s wind and rains contributed to a fatal crash in the Florida Keys.
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said Saturday that first responders patrolling during a lull in the storm found the man’s truck wrapped around a tree.
The sheriff says after receiving a report of the crash, his office found a tow truck that quickly removed the truck and body for safekeeping.
The Florida Highway Patrol will investigate when it is safe. The man’s identity was not released.
French President Emmanuel Macron is coming under criticism for his government’s handling of Hurricane Irma and failing to fully prepare France’s Caribbean territories for its devastating blow.
Far right leader Marine Le Pen, who lost the presidency to Macron in May, accused the government Saturday of having “totally insufficient” emergency and security measures in place.
Families of stranded island residents have taken to social networks to voice similar criticism after at least nine were killed and homes destroyed across St. Martin and St. Barts.
Macron held an emergency meeting later Saturday about Irma and approaching Hurricane Jose, and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe insisted that the government’s support for Irma’s victims isn’t “empty words.”
The criticism comes as Macron’s popularity has been sinking over unpopular domestic policies.
Hurricane Irma is done with Cuba and is slowly chugging to the Florida Keys and the state’s west coast.
The National Hurricane Center extended storm surge and hurricane warnings on both sides of Florida’s coasts.
The center warns the threat of catastrophic storm surge flooding is highest along the southwest coast of Florida, where 10 to 15 feet of inundation above ground level is expected.
Southwest Florida is sometimes called “surge central” by storm experts.
Irma continues to have 125 mph (200 kph) winds, but forecasters say it should regain some of its lost strength and eventually hit Florida probably as a Category 4 hurricane.
Strong hurricane-force winds will reach the Florida Keys by Sunday morning. Already Fort Lauderdale’s airport reported sustained winds of 47 mph (76 kilometers per hour).
The general in charge of the Ohio National Guard says 7,000 soldiers from several states will be sent to Florida to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
Maj. General Mark Bartman told The Associated Press Saturday that the Ohio National Guard will be part of a contingent that also includes National Guard units from Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. The Ohio National Guard is sending as many as 3,500 Ohio soldiers.
Bartman says Ohio Guard soldiers will head to Florida starting sometime next week. It’s the Ohio National Guard’s first large deployment of soldiers for U.S. disaster relief since Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast in 2005.
The general says Ohio Guard soldiers will be involved in varying missions that could include providing security alongside local law enforcement and helping transport stranded people to shelters.
Florida officials have started allowing people to drive on the shoulders of Interstate 4, the main highway that links Tampa to Orlando.
The Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Highway Patrol announced the move on Saturday. It came in the aftermath of updated forecasts that show Hurricane Irma taking aim at Tampa.
State officials have been permitting motorists to use shoulders instead of allowing one-way flow on the state’s highways. Florida has told more than 6 million to evacuate ahead of the killer storm and the mass exodus has jammed the roads.
Gov. Rick Scott has resisted calls to reverse the flow of lanes. Georgia’s governor authorized one-way traffic in order to help with evacuations in that state. State officials cautioned that driving on the left-hand shoulder is only allowed when motorists are directed to do so by police and highway signs.
France’s government is sending hundreds more soldiers and police to restore order to the Caribbean island of St. Martin amid looting and chaos after Hurricane Irma.
The government also told all residents to stay inside and put the island and nearby St. Barts on its highest alert level as a new storm, Hurricane Jose, bears down on the area.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Saturday night that France is sending Foreign Legion troops, paratroopers and other reinforcements to St. Martin starting Sunday.
France already has several hundred gendarmes, soldiers and other security forces but Philippe acknowledged that they are working in difficult conditions and need help.
St. Martin saw several people killed and vast damage to homes, electricity and water supplies.
The broadcaster Francetvinfo reported Saturday that the island’s jail was also destroyed and its 250 inmates are now at large.
Many Florida families say online retailers let them down at the worst possible moment with cancellations and no-shows ahead of powerful Hurricane Irma even before the weather deteriorated.
The Associated Press has received more than 50 complaints from South Florida families who were expecting flashlights, battery-operated radios, water bottles and first-aid kits after placing orders with online retailers.
Customers said on Saturday that they received the cancellations only after evacuations had begun in their neighborhoods and local markets’ shelves had emptied. Some had placed orders as early as Monday.
Other said their packages arrived in Miami but were either stuck at a sorting facility for a few days or delayed because of problems with couriers.
A Nestle-owned water delivery company, ReadyRefresh, apologized on Twitter for service disruptions and delays.
More than 50,000 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.
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