The Latest: More than 75K people flock to Florida shelters

The Latest on Hurricane Irma (all times local):

6:05 p.m.

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.

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6 p.m.

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.

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5:45 p.m.

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.

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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.

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5:20 p.m.

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).

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4:20 p.m.

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.

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4:15 p.m.

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.

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4 p.m.

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.

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3:30 p.m.

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.

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3:00 p.m.

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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2:50 p.m.

The U.S. 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.

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2:20 p.m.

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 U.S. 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.

11:25 a.m.

Florida asks another 700,000 to leave ahead of Hurricane Irma; nearly 7 million total urged to evacuate multiple states.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 21million 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.

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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.

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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 21million 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

___

1 p.m.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez says more than 660,000 residents of Miami-Dade County must evacuate and find hurricane-proof shelter as Irma bears down on Florida. The county plans to open 43 shelters with room for more than 100,000 people by Friday night.

That includes the homeless. The Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust says more than 1,000 people live on the streets in Miami, and only 300 have been evacuated so far. Many are willingly moving to shelters, but some have to be detained using the ‘Baker Act’,  a law which allows officers to hospitalize people with mental illness against their will.

The Associated Press was there as Miami police handcuffed one man to evacuate a waterfront park. Another man resisted until police threatened to hospitalize him instead.

Ron Book with the homeless trust says anybody who stays on the streets during this storm is “going to die.”

___

12:45 p.m.

Florida’s theme parks are staying open until what seems to be the last moment before Hurricane Irma carves up the peninsula.

Universal Orlando has announced it is closing its parks Sunday, just ahead of when damaging winds should reach central Florida.

Universal Orlando says it’s closing all three of its parks at 7 p.m. on Saturday and will remain closed through Monday.

Earlier Friday, Sea World said it will be closing its park on Sunday and Monday, as well. Disney World still has not confirmed its plans.

At this point, all of these parks anticipate re-opening on Tuesday.

___

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 p.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.

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.”

In this Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, photo, damage is left after Hurricane Irma hit Barbuda. 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 a number of people, with Florida in its sights. (AP Photo/Anika E. Kentish)

___

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.

_____

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.

This image made from video shows damage from Hurricane Irma in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Hurricane Irma weakened slightly Thursday with sustained winds of 175 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm boasted 185 mph winds for a more than 24-hour period, making it the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. The storm was expected to arrive in Cuba by Friday. It could hit the Florida mainland by late Saturday, according to hurricane center models. (AP Photo/Ian Brown)

___

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.

 

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