Posts Tagged ‘Hurricane Irma’

Shortage of Florida Insurance Adjusters Could Stall Recovery Efforts

September 14, 2017

Insurers are vying for adjusters after many of them headed to Texas after Hurricane Harvey

After Irma, Florida residents are lacking in many necessities. One of the more frustrating is the paucity of insurance adjusters, which is threatening to anger policyholders and potentially delay the state’s rebuilding efforts.

Many of the state’s adjusters are 1,000 miles away, working on claims made after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.

Insurers are scrambling to get more adjusters to Florida, creating a bidding war for those who are available. Some Florida home insurers have increased fees paid to adjusters by about 30%, insurers and adjusters say.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp., a state-run insurer of last resort, has boosted adjuster compensation by 18% to 20% and said it expects additional increases to keep up with rivals.

While higher fees for adjusters often only modestly impact the cost of a claim, the bigger worry is that damage to buildings will worsen from mold and other problems. In addition, claims that could have been resolved amicably may end up in costly litigation as homeowners get angry waiting.

“An insurance claim isn’t a bottle of wine,” said Randy Maniloff, an insurance-industry defense lawyer at Williams and White LLP.

Adjuster Lee Vorcheimer has been receiving calls from companies seeking to recruit him.
Adjuster Lee Vorcheimer has been receiving calls from companies seeking to recruit him.PHOTO: MATTHEW RIVA/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Insurance companies are vying for the nation’s independent claims adjusters, who total 57,200 as of July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. ​Florida also says it is easing the process of appointing insurance adjusters, which may help expand the number.

“Our Department has taken steps to make the adjuster-appointment process as simple ​[as] ​possible for insurance companies, and our team is processing appointments at a rapid-fire pace” in an effort “to ensure that Floridians get swift handling of their post-storm claims,” said a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Financial Services. In addition, many insurance companies employ adjusters full-time and a lot of those will be on the ground, among other types of adjusters who could be available.

Lee Vorcheimer, a longtime adjuster in south Florida, said that “every day for the last two weeks, there have been 10 or 15 emails” from independent-adjuster firms seeking to recruit him to travel to Texas or handle claims for local insurers. He has been offered bonuses, including money for temporary housing.

Independent insurance adjusters are paid according to the size of a claim they assess for a company. For Irma claims, they are earning from about $500 to about $30,000 for policyholder claims of $1,000 to $1 million, respectively, according to two fee schedules from private insurers reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Some adjusters can make $65,000 to $100,000 in the first month after a major hurricane, people in the industry say.

“When you have a hurricane like Harvey and a hurricane like Irma, everybody loves you,” said Mr. Vorcheimer, who settled on adjusting Irma claims for Tampa-based HCI GroupInc., in part because he likes their technology.

This week, Mr. Vorcheimer began inspections as early as 7:30 a.m., looking at up to 15 properties a day. In Broward County on Monday, he found trees on roofs, missing shingles, rain damage, and blown-over pool screens and fences. Damage ranged up to about $65,000, he said. He hauled ladders from his pickup truck and climbed on every roof. He finished his day just after 7 p.m.

Lee Vorcheimer processes insurance adjustment claims after Irma.
Lee Vorcheimer processes insurance adjustment claims after Irma. PHOTO: MATTHEW RIVA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Vorcheimer, 51 years old, got into adjusting in 2005 after selling a bakery and a neighbor recruited him to help with Hurricane Wilma claims. His wife, Cheryl, handles administrative matters for the business, Perfect Reliable Independent Claim Services Inc.​. Like many other adjusters, the couple uses a 45-foot recreational vehicle when traveling to inspect long-distance claims. The couple is living there temporarily as their home in Pompano Beach has no power.

Though Irma didn’t strike Miami, the state’s largest city, as feared, damages from the storm could be large enough to displace Sandy as the nation’s third most-expensive hurricane ever. That 2012 storm left $20 billion in losses, in today’s dollars, mostly in the northeast. On Wednesday, catastrophe-risk modeling firm Karen Clark & Co. estimated Irma’s U.S. damage at $18 billion.

The adjuster issues are especially acute in Florida because its home-insurance market is heavily dependent on small and midsize insurers. Over the past 25 years, many of the brand-name national insurers have shrunk their presence in the state to reduce their exposure to hurricanes.

Smaller insurance companies typically rely heavily on independent adjusters, said Joseph Burtone, an insurance analyst with ratings firm A.M. Best. The smaller insurers “have to figure out a way to handle that the best they can,” he said. “It will be a challenge.”

By comparison, the national insurers employ fleets of adjusters and can send people to Florida from other states. Many big names, such as American International Group Inc. and ​Liberty Mutual Insurance, also contract with independent-adjuster firms as needed when disasters occur. Chubb Ltd. said it relies predominantly on its own staff.

On Tuesday, Tim Barziza, a Texas-based “claim leader” for Chubb, was on the last leg of a drive to Miami to oversee a command center there. It is one of several such centers Chubb has set up across the state for taking care of well-to-do policyholders’ homes, fine art, boats and vehicles, as well as business clients.

Roughly 400 Chubb employees are expected to handle claims and adjusting, either in the state or from call centers. Chubb adjusters are arriving “from all corners of the U.S.,” Mr. Barziza said, taking a break from driving and watching as utility-truck convoys and vehicles with children, dogs and suitcases returned home. By Wednesday, Chubb had received just over 1,000 Irma claims, the overwhelming majority tied to home policies.

In addition to private insurers, many Florida claims will be processed by Citizens, which at about 450,000 policyholders is one of the state’s biggest insurers. It expects about 150,000 claims, a spokesman said. As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, about 7,000 had arrived.

“A stale claim is an expensive claim,” said John Rollins, an executive with Cabrillo Coastal General Insurance Agency LLC in Gainesville, Fla., and a former chief risk officer of Citizens. “The key in a situation like this is getting to the policyholder and getting some money in their hands so they can begin the recovery process.”

As Florida’s market gets stretched, insurance executives said the fee increases being paid to adjusters in Florida are spilling over to Texas.

“There’s a tug of war for adjusters” between the two states, said James Warren, who works as an adjuster for Crawford & Co., which handles claims for insurance companies.

Some adjusters who would ordinarily stay for two months or longer to adjust claims for a hurricane like Harvey are already heading to Florida, he said.

Mr. Warren is currently adjusting Harvey claims in south Texas, and opted not to go to Florida because he wants to stay close to his home in the Lone Star state.

“Right now, anyone with a license to adjust claims can get a job and some company will try them out,” Mr. Warren said. “They’re paying more for adjusters to work Irma than they’ve ever paid insurance adjusters ever.”

Mr. Warren’s firm, Crawford, is running an orientation program in Atlanta to get hundreds of longtime adjusters up to speed on protocols of clients with claims to adjust in Florida. The firm is moving adjusters from Canada and the U.K. to Florida as well, said Chief Executive Harsha Agadi.

This week, HCI, the Tampa-based insurer, signed up adjusters from Massachusetts to augment its Florida team. “Everybody is pressing into service everybody and anybody they can get,” CEO Paresh Patel said.

Typically, insurers have contingency plans for hurricanes, “but we watched all of our contingency resources go to Houston” after Harvey, he said.

Write to Leslie Scism at leslie.scism@wsj.com and Nicole Friedman at nicole.friedman@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/florida-is-short-on-insurance-adjusters-and-that-could-stall-recovery-efforts-1505381401

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Asia markets take breather, dollar holds up after rally — return of optimism to markets

September 13, 2017

AFP

© KCNA VIA KNS/AFP | Pyongyang has warned it will speed up its weapons programme in response to UN sanctions on Kim Jong-Un’s regime following recent nuclear and missile tests

HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian investors eased off the pedal Wednesday after their recent gains while the dollar held up against the yen as North Korea kept itself in the mix by warning it would ramp up its nuclear weapons programme in response to fresh UN sanctions.While Tokyo was able to kick on thanks to a further weakening of the yen, traders were unwilling to track a record close for all three main Wall Street indexes.

The latest gains have been fuelled by relief that Hurricane Irma did not hammer Florida as badly as feared and that the North Korea crisis had settled somewhat after its recent provocative nuclear and missile tests.

However, Pyongyang continued to take up attention when it vowed Wednesday to accelerate its weapons drive after the “evil” Security Council sanctions.

President Donald Trump had earlier warned of more measures against Kim Jong-Un’s regime, while the European Union said it would push ahead with further moves.

In equities trade Tokyo ended the morning 0.5 percent higher as exporters benefited from the weaker yen. The greenback broke back above 110 yen Tuesday after last week’s sell-off saw it tumble to the 10-month lows around 107.30 yen.

Sydney added 0.4 percent and Seoul was 0.1 percent higher but Hong Kong slipped 0.6 percent.

In other currency trading the pound extended gains after hitting a one-year high against the dollar on the back of a strong British inflation reading, while it was also given support by the return of optimism to markets.

However, OANDA head of Asia-Pacific trading Stephen Innes issued a word of caution after the recent run of global volatility.

“Ultimately this buoyant risk sentiment should be cheered, but forex traders remain in the Nervous Nellie camp waiting for the next chaotic patch given the evolving narratives,” he warned.

“A word of caution to those enjoying this unexpected sea of tranquillity: the next few weeks and months come with significant risk.”

The release later this week of US inflation figures will be closely followed as the Federal Reserve ponders another interest rate hike and the winding in of its stimulus programme.

Analysts said policymakers could have a little more time to make a move in light of Hurricane Irma in Florida and last month’s Harvey in Texas, which could skew the data the Fed relies on to make its decision.

– Key figures around 0230 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.5 percent at 19,869.82 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.6 percent at 27,819.68

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3,372.92

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1971 from $1.1964 at 2130 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 110.02 from 110.18 yen

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3289 from $1.3280

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP six cents at $48.29 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: DOWN six cents at $54.21

New York – DOW: UP 0.3 percent at 22,118.86 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 7,400.69 (close)

British FM Johnson flying to Caribbean after criticism of Irma aid

September 12, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Boris Johnson will visit the British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean affected by Hurricane Irma, the foreign ministry said on Twitter

LONDON (AFP) – Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is flying to British territories in the Caribbean on Tuesday following intense criticism of London’s efforts to help communities devastated by Hurricane Irma.Johnson, who has dismissed the criticism from local residents and British tourists as “completely unjustified”, will visit the affected British Overseas Territories, the foreign ministry said on Twitter.

French President Emmanuel Macron is visiting the French-Dutch territory of St Martin on Tuesday and Dutch King Willem-Alexander travelled there on Monday.

Britain has sent more than 700 troops and 50 police officers to the British Virgin Islands after Irma swept through last week. Six people have been killed in the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla.

Britain has also dispatched 10 humanitarian flights and pledged £32 million (35 million euros, $42 million) in aid for the territories, which are under British sovereignty but not part of the United Kingdom.

A British navy ship has also been assisting victims of the hurricane since last week and a second warship, the HMS Ocean, is due to set off from Gibraltar Tuesday but will only arrive in the Caribbean in 12 days’ time.

But local residents say the government was not prepared and the aid has been too slow to arrive.

The families of some British tourists stranded on St Martin have also complained that their loved ones are not being evacuated from the island.

Irma leaves Florida Keys devastated, but state escapes the worst

September 12, 2017

AFP

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© Marc Serota / Getty Images / AFP | Debris is shown strewn along a roadway in the wake of Hurricane Irma on September 11, 2017 in Isamorada, in the Florida Keys.

Millions of Florida residents were without power and extensive damage was reported in the Florida Keys but most of the Sunshine State appeared to have dodged forecasts of catastrophic damage from Hurricane Irma.

The monster storm roared ashore as a powerful Category 4 hurricane when it hit the Keys southern island chain on Sunday, ripping boats from their moorings, flattening palm trees and downing power lines, after devastating a string of Caribbean islands.

By the time it hit the peninsula the storm had been downgraded and weakened further to a tropical depression late Monday.

But while Florida may have escaped the worst, the death toll jumped to at least 40 after Cuba said 10 people had been killed there over the weekend as Irma spun northward.

Across the Caribbean, hard-hit residents struggled to get back on their feet as Britain, France, the Netherlands and the United States ramped up relief efforts for their overseas territories.

Florida residents who spent an anxious night huddled indoors were venturing out Monday to survey the damage, which did not seem to be as bad as initially feared.

“If this had been a Category 4 hurricane the whole scenario would have been completely different,” said Bob Lutz, a 62-year-old business owner.

More than 6.5 million customers in Florida were without power, however, and Governor Rick Scott said the Keys had suffered a lot of damage.

“It’s horrible what we saw,” Scott said after flying over the island chain with the Coast Guard.

He said the water, electricity and sewage systems in the Keys were all non-operational and that trailer parks had been “overturned.”

“We now go through the much longer phase, which is the recovery phase. And believe me, folks, some of this is going to take a while, especially power restoration,” Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez cautioned.

Most Keys residents had followed mandatory evacuation orders, but there were some holdouts who had to hunker down as Irma slammed into the low-lying tourist archipelago known for its fishing, scuba diving and boating.

The storm downed power lines, felled trees and left debris and vehicles strewn across the streets. But concrete homes appeared to have withstood the gusts.

Irma now a tropical depression

Though Irma was downgraded to a tropical depression, forecasters warned of “life-threatening” surf and rip currents.

Florida’s northeastern city of Jacksonville, population 880,000, ordered urgent evacuations amid record flooding along the St Johns River.

Flooding was also reported in the city of Charleston, South Carolina.

Irma’s maximum sustained winds had decreased to 35 miles (56 kilometers) per hour as of 11:00 pm (0300 GMT Tuesday). Irma’s eye was in western Georgia, and expected to cross into eastern Alabama and western Tennessee later Monday.

Irma had triggered orders for more than six million people in the United States to flee to safety, one of the biggest evacuations in the country’s history.

In flood-prone Miami, the largest US city in Irma’s path, cleaning crews were busy clearing branches, debris and fallen street signs from downtown.

10 dead in Cuba

In Bonita Springs, a city of 50,000 people on Florida’s hard-hit southwest coast, large areas were flooded and the entire city was without power. Some residents were trying to reach their homes by walking through floodwater up to their waists, while others paddled canoes.

“I don’t think I can make it over to the house. I’d like to walk through there, but it looks like it’s three feet (one meter) deep at least, and my boots are only a foot deep and I don’t like cold water, which explains why I live here,” Sam Parish told AFP.

As residents began to check out their homes, authorities warned of downed power lines, raw sewage in floodwaters and — this being Florida — displaced wildlife like snakes and alligators.

“Don’t think just because this has passed you can run home,” Governor Scott said. “We have downed power lines all across the state.

“We have roads that are impassable,” he said. “We have debris all over the state.”

President Donald Trump has approved the state’s request for emergency federal aid to help with temporary housing, home repairs, emergency work and hazard mitigation. He has promised to travel to the state “very soon.”

Before reaching the United States, Irma smashed through a string of Caribbean islands from tiny Barbuda on Wednesday, to the tropical paradises of Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Panama said it was distributing at least 90 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Saint Martin and Cuba, while Venezuela — itself beset by shortages amid a crippling economic crisis — has sent 30 tonnes of food, potable water and supplies to Cuba and other Caribbean islands.

About 400 exhausted and traumatized survivors of Hurricane Irma arrived in France and the Netherlands on Monday aboard military planes.

An aircraft with 278 aboard landed in Paris, while another 100 people flew into Eindhoven in the southern Netherlands from the Guadeloupe capital Pointe-a-Pitre.

Both the French and Dutch governments have come under criticism over delays in their responses to the crisis and in particular over how they handled outbreaks of looting on Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin, an island with both French and Dutch sectors.

In Cuba, officials said Irma was the deadliest hurricane to strike the island since Dennis in 2005, and warned the toll could rise.

Three quarters of the population were without power as the authorities began the task of restoring basic infrastructure and services.

“This is a big warning already, when you know that climate change is getting more and more cruel,” said Francisco Garcia, coach of Cuba’s national karate team, whose home here was partially destroyed.

(AFP)

Dutch king to visit hurricane-hit Sint Maarten

September 11, 2017

AFP

© DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/AFP/File | Some 70 percent of homes and infrastructure on Sint Maarten — the once popular tourist hotspot shared with France’s Saint Martin, — were destroyed when Irma whipped through on Wednesday

THE HAGUE (AFP) – Dutch King Willem-Alexander will visit the devastated Caribbean island of Sint Maarten on Monday to view the aid operation for tens of thousands left stricken by Hurricane Irma, the palace said.Accompanied by Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk, he will tour the damaged Princess Juliana airport, a hospital and school, and speak with aid and medical workers as well as security officials, the palace said in a statement.

He will also climb up to the Point Blanche viewpoint to survey the damage to the harbour and parts of the island.

“I am here to find out what has happened and how the coordination effort is going,” the king told reporters after arriving in the nearby island of Curacao late Sunday.

He toured the aid coordination centre in Curacao and visited patients who were airlifted to hospital from Sint Maarten after Hurricane Irma ravaged the island on Wednesday, downing power lines, cutting electricity and communications to the island.

“The only message I have at the moment, is that we know what you have gone through and we are doing our best to help everyone who is in need,” Willem-Alexander added.

The 50-year-old king will also visit the Dutch territories of St Eustatius and Saba on Tuesday, the palace said.

Some 70 percent of homes and infrastructure on Sint Maarten — the once popular tourist hotspot shared with France’s Saint Martin — were destroyed when Irma whipped through on Wednesday. Four people were killed in the storm.

The Dutch government has rushed aid and hundreds of troops to the island to help residents and restore order amid reports of looting.

“There is still no functioning public administration” on Sint Maarten, Plasterk told reporters, quoted by ANP.

And despite efforts to restore security “you still cannot talk about a safe situation,” he added.

Mass distribution of food and water was due to start Monday in Sint Maarten, and desalination equipment and purification tablets were also on their way.

Tampa mayor: Irma wrath not as bad as feared — The latest

September 11, 2017

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on Hurricane Irma (all times local):

7 a.m.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says that while the city hasn’t escaped Hurricane Irma’s wrath, the situation isn’t as bad as they had feared.

Speaking Monday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Buckhorn said “What we thought was going to be a punch in the face was a glancing blow.”

Buckhorn did say there are a lot of downed power lines and debris.

He said Tampa’s officials have vehicles positioned “to be sure that when that surge comes in we can keep people out of the streets.”

He said he expected power to be out for some sections of Tampa for at least a couple more days.

Hurricane Irma is getting weaker as it moves over the western Florida peninsula after hitting the state Sunday as a Category 4 storm.

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6:45 a.m.

Police in Miami are investigating reports of people looting stores as Hurricane Irma hit the state.

On Sunday night, Miami police took two people into custody and detained two others.

Deputy Police Chief Luis Cabrera told the Miami Herald the officers went to the Shops at Midtown on Sunday afternoon as the winds of Hurricane Irma were at their strongest in South Florida. Cabrera says a group in a white truck hit multiple locations. Police have also received additional reports of looting in the city.

Police had issued a curfew Saturday night, partly to ward off looters by giving officers probable cause to stop anyone for being on the street during the storm.

Cabrera didn’t have specific details about the looting incidents.

Hurricane Irma pummeled Florida from coast-to-coast with winds up to 130 mph Sunday, swamping homes and boats, knocking out power to millions and toppling massive cranes. Irma’s winds slowed to around 100 mph before midnight. (Sept. 11)

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6:45 a.m.

The British government is defending its response to Hurricane Irma amid claims it has been slow to help its overseas territories devastated by the storm.

The British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos islands were all pummeled by the hurricane last week, leaving thousands without electricity or shelter.

Opposition politicians have compared Britain’s response unfavorably to that of France, which has sent more than 1,000 troops, police and emergency workers to St. Martin and St. Barts.

Britain has dispatched a navy ship and nearly 500 troops, including medics and engineers.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Monday that Britain had responded strongly to an “unprecedented catastrophe.” He says the government will soon increase the 32 million pounds ($42 million) it’s pledged to the relief effort.

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6:30 a.m.

Police in Lakeland, Florida, say a family with small children was rescued from a car that was submerged in water as Hurricane Irma crossed the area.

Lakeland police said in a Facebook post that officers rescued the family of four early Monday as water reached the children’s car seats. No one was injured and police were able to get the family back to their home.

“When you become a police officer you hope to make a difference in the lives of others,” the Facebook post said. “Tonight, there is no doubt these officers made a difference.”

Lakeland is between Tampa and Orlando, off of Interstate 4.

Hurricane Irma is getting weaker as it moves over the western Florida peninsula after hitting the state Sunday as a Category 4 storm.

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6:30 a.m.

A Florida sheriff’s sergeant and a paramedic were trapped in a sheriff’s vehicle when a live power pole fell on the cruiser as they were returning from dropping off an elderly patient as Hurricane Irma moved over the state.

Polk County spokesman Kevin Watler said in a news release that Sgt. Chris Lynn and Polk County Fire Rescue paramedic James Tanner Schaill were trapped for about two hours late Sunday.

Crews from Lakeland Electric crews disconnected the lines around 1:15 a.m. Monday. Both men have returned to their jobs to continue assisting hurricane recovery efforts.

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6:10 a.m.

More than 120 homes are being evacuated in Orange County, just outside Orlando, as floodwaters from Hurricane Irma started to pour in.

The Orange County Emergency Operations Center said early Monday that the fire department and the National Guard are going door-to-door using boats to ferry families to safety. No injuries have been reported. The rescued families are being taken a shelter for safety.

A few miles away, 30 others had to be evacuated when a 60-foot sinkhole opened up under an apartment building. No injuries were reported in that incident.

Hurricane Irma is getting weaker as it moves over the western Florida peninsula after hitting the state Sunday as a Category 4 storm.

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5 a.m.

Hurricane Irma is getting weaker as it moves over the western Florida peninsula early Monday.

Irma hit Florida on Sunday as a powerful Category 4 hurricane, hammering much of the state with roof-ripping winds, gushing floodwaters and widespread power outages.

By Monday morning, Irma had weakened to a Category 1 hurricane with winds near 85 mph (135 kph). Additional weakening is forecast and Irma is expected to become a tropical storm over northern Florida or southern Georgia later in the day.

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4:45 a.m.

Dutch search and rescue experts are heading to the shattered former colony of St. Maarten to support the humanitarian relief effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

A team of 59 urban search and rescue experts is flying Monday to the Dutch territory that’s home to some 40,000 people, where 70 percent of homes were badly damaged last week by a direct hit from the Category 5 storm. Four people were killed and dozens injured.

The Dutch government also is sending extra troops to maintain order following widespread looting and robberies. The government says there are already nearly 400 extra troops in St. Maarten and that number will rise to some 550 over the next two days.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander is expected to visit the island Monday to show his support for local residents and the emergency services working to restore infrastructure and begin the process of reconstruction.

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2 a.m.

Irma weakened to a Category 1 storm as the massive hurricane zeroed in on the Tampa Bay region early Monday after hammering much of Florida with roof-ripping winds, gushing floodwaters and widespread power outages.

The hurricane’s maximum sustained winds weakened to 85 mph (135 kph) with additional weakening expected.

As of 2 a.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Tampa and moving north-northwest near 15 mph (24 kph).

Irma continues its slog north along Florida’s western coast having blazed a path of unknown destruction. With communication cut to some of the Florida Keys, where Irma made landfall Sunday, and rough conditions persisting across the peninsula, many are holding their breath for what daylight might reveal.

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Britons stranded by Irma appeal for more help — “lawlessness is getting worse”

September 11, 2017

AFP

© MOD/AFP | A handout picture released by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) shows military personnel unloading water and supplies in Barbados to provide disaster relief after Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands.

LONDON (AFP) – Britons left stranded on Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma said Britain’s response had been faulty, but Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Monday called the criticism “completely unjustified”.British billionaire Richard Branson meanwhile revealed the scale of the destruction by posting images on his blog of destroyed buildings on his private island in the British Virgin Islands.

Geoffrey Scott Baker, whose daughter Amy Brown is on the nearby Dutch-French Caribbean territory of St Martin, told BBC radio: “Nothing is happening.”

“It seems that everybody can airlift their citizens out except for the UK who are doing absolutely nothing on the ground,” Baker said after US citizens were evacuated from the island over the weekend.

Ian Smart told The Daily Telegraph that his son Jos with his girlfriend Julia Taylor were trapped on the same island, where “lawlessness is getting worse”.

“They are holed up in a half demolished bathroom and their phone is running out of battery,” he said.

“They are in a bit of a state. There have been rats in their room looking for food. At night time there were people knocking on their door, and so there are 12 hours of sheer blackness to get through with the terror of who is going to knock down the door”.

Taylor’s sister Ayla said: “The British consulate and Foreign Office have given no advice or help, other than to take Jos and Julia’s name and number”.

Britain has pledged £32 million (35 million euros, $42 million) in aid and sent hundreds of troops, supplies and rescue equipment on several flights to the British territories in the Caribbean since Friday.

There are around 88,000 Britons living in the region.

“I am confident we are doing everything we possible can to help British nationals,” Johnson told the BBC.

“If you look at what is happening now you can see an unprecedented British effort to deal with what has been an unprecedented catastrophe for the region.”

Branson, founder of the Virgin business empire who was staying on his island of Necker, said the British Virgin Islands needed “an enormous amount of help to recover from the widespread devastation”.

“The UK government will have a massive role to play in the recovery of its territories affected by Irma,” he said on his blog.

“Much of the buildings and vegetation on Necker has been destroyed or badly damaged,” he said.

More Aid, Evacuations in Caribbean Islands Battered by Irma

September 11, 2017

HAVANA — With ports mended and weather cleared, officials sent in more aid and arranged stepped-up evacuations Monday in remote Caribbean islands devastated and cut off by Hurricane Irma.

Many in the chain of Leeward Islands known as the playground for the rich and famous have criticized governments for failing to respond quickly to the disaster caused by the Category 5 hurricane.

The storm stripped the islands’ formerly lush green hills to a brown stubble and flattened buildings, then swamped much of Cuba’s coastline, including Havana’s iconic Malecon seawall.

At least 24 people died in Anguilla, Barbuda, the French-Dutch island of St. Martin, St. Barts, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. Among them was a 2-year-old boy swept away when his home filled with water.

Residents have reported shortages of food, water and medicine, and many have complained of looting.

The U.S. government said it was sending a flight Monday to evacuate its citizens from one of the hardest hit islands, St. Martin. Evacuees were warned to expect long lines and no running water at the airport.

A Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship was expected to dock near St. Martin to help in the aftermath, and a boat was bringing a 5-ton crane capable of unloading large shipping containers filled with aid. A French military ship was scheduled to arrive Tuesday with materials to build temporary housing.

Some 70 percent of the beds at the main hospital in the French portion of St. Martin were severely damaged, and more than 100 people in need of urgent medical care have been evacuated. Eight of the territory’s 11 pharmacies were destroyed, and Guadeloupe was sending medication.

On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron was scheduled to arrive in St. Martin to bring aid and fend off criticism that he didn’t do enough to respond to the storm’s wrath.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the “whole government is mobilized” to help and the pillaging that hit the island in the immediate aftermath of the storm had stopped.

Macron promised to go to the region as soon as weather conditions allowed. Soon after Irma left 10 dead on St. Martin, Category 4 Hurricane Jose threatened the area, halting evacuations for hours before heading out to sea and causing little additional damage.

Also hit hard was Cuba, where central Havana neighborhoods along the coast between the Almendares River and the harbor suffered the brunt of the flooding. Seawater penetrated as much as a half-kilometer (one-third of a mile) inland in places.

There were no reported fatalities in Cuba, and government officials credited their disaster preparedness and evacuation of more than 1 million people from flood-prone areas.

Hector Pulpito recounted a harrowing night at his job as night custodian of a parking lot that flooded five blocks from the sea in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.

“This was the worst of the storms I have been through, and the sea rose much higher,” Pulpito said. “The trees were shaking. Metal roofs went flying.”

Cuban state television reported severe damage to hotels on the northern keys off Ciego de Avila and Camaguey provinces.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma reported that the Jardines del Rey airport serving the northern keys was destroyed and posted photos to Twitter showing the shattered terminal hall littered with debris.

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Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez reported this story in Havana and AP writer Desmond Boylan reported from Caibarien, Cuba. AP writer Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

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HURRICANE NEWSLETTER – Get the best of the AP’s all-formats reporting on Irma and Harvey in your inbox: http://apne.ws/ahYQGtb

The Latest: Hurricane Irma nears populated Tampa region

September 11, 2017

The Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on Hurricane Irma (all times local):

10:55 p.m.

Hurricane Irma remains a dangerous Category 2 hurricane despite weakening a bit more to 100 mph (160 kph). It’s now bearing down on the Tampa-St. Petersburg region.

The National Hurricane Center said Irma’s eye was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Tampa near 11 p.m. Sunday and moving at a fast clip of 14 mph (22 kph). Still a large hurricane, its tropical storm force winds extend out 415 miles (665 kilometers).

Forecasters say they expert Irma’s center to stay inland over Florida and then move into Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.

They also expect Irma to weaken further into a tropical storm over far northern Florida or southern Georgia on Monday as it speeds up its forward motion. The hurricane center says the storm is still life-threatening with dangerous storm surge, wind and heavy rains.

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10:05 p.m.

A third construction crane has toppled in Florida in the powerful winds of Hurricane Irma.

Officials say it happened at a project on Fort Lauderdale beach during the storm Sunday.

Officials with developer The Related Group told the Sun-Sentinel the crane collapse caused no injuries and did not appear to damage anything else.

Two other cranes toppled earlier in Miami as Irma swirled up the state.

A monster Hurricane Irma roared into Florida Sunday with 130 mph winds, flooding streets and knocking out power to more than 1.5 million homes. In Palm Bay, a tornado triggered by Irma’s approach destroyed a number of mobile homes. (Sept. 10)

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9:25 p.m.

Miami International Airport has announced it will be closed Monday and begin only limited flights on Tuesday.

Orlando International Airport closed Saturday and won’t reopen to passenger traffic until after Hurricane Irma has passed, a damage assessment has been completed, necessary recovery efforts made and the airlines are consulted to determine when best to resume operations.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport says on its website it has no timetable yet to reopen. Its last flights were Friday.

Tampa International Airport also is closed as Hurricane Irma moves up the Florida peninsula.

Airlines are preparing their recovery schedules, which may take several days to execute.

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9:05 p.m.

The county administrator in the Florida Keys says crews will begin house to house searches Monday morning, looking for people who need help and assessing damage from Hurricane Irma.

Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi says relief will arrive on a C-130 military plane Monday morning at the Key West International Airport.

Once it’s light out, they’ll check on survivors. They suspect they may find fatalities.

Gastesi says they are “prepared for the worst.”

Hurricane Irma made landfall Sunday morning in Cudjoe Key.

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8:55 p.m.

The U.S. Departments of State and Defense are working on evacuation flights from Sint Maarten after Hurricane Irma.

Officials say U.S. citizens in need of evacuation should shelter in place until Monday, listening for radio updates, and then go to the airport by noon, bringing proof of citizenship and just one small bag.

The State Department adds that a Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship has left the island.

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8:45 p.m.

More than 3.3 million homes and businesses — and counting — have lost power in Florida as Hurricane Irma moves up the peninsula.

The widespread outages stretch from the Florida Keys all the way into central Florida.

Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest electric utility, said there were nearly 1 million customers without power in Miami-Dade County alone.

The power outages are expected to increase as the storm edges further north.

There are roughly 7 million residential customers in the state. (edited)

8:30 p.m.

Hurricane Irma’s top sustained winds have dropped to 105 mph. That’s still a Category 2 storm, meaning extensive damage will occur.

Masters says that if Irma’s center had shifted just 20 miles to the north as it moved past Cuba, it could have hit the mainland United States as a Category 5.

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8 p.m.

Two manatees were stranded after Hurricane Irma sucked the water out of Sarasota Bay, in Florida’s Manatee County.

Several people posted photos of the mammals on Facebook Sunday, hoping rescue workers or wildlife officials would respond. Michael Sechler posted that the animals were far too massive to be lifted, so they gave them water.

Marcelo Clavijo posted that a group of people eventually loaded the manatees onto tarps and dragged them to deeper water.

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7:45 p.m.

Hurricane Irma set all sorts of records for brute strength before crashing into Florida, flattening islands in the Caribbean and swamping the Florida Keys.

It finally hit the mainland as a big wide beast, but not quite as monstrous as once feared. The once-Category 5 storm lost some of its power on the northern Cuba coast.

It’s still raking Florida with devastating storm surges, winds and rain. Its top sustained winds are now 110 mph (177 kph) and the center of the storm is about 15 miles (25 kilometers) inland from Fort Myers.

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7:30 p.m.

It’s been difficult to determine the extent of damage Hurricane Irma caused in the Florida Keys, where communication has been difficult and authorities are warning boaters and drivers to stay away.

But The Associated Press has been texting with John Huston, who has been riding out the storm in his house on Key Largo, on the Atlantic side of the island, just south of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

Every few minutes during the height of the storm, he sent another dispatch.

He described whiteout conditions, with howling winds that sucked dry the gulf side of the narrow island, where the tide is usually 8 feet deep. He kept his humor though, texting to “send cold beer” at one point. Now he sees furniture floating down the street with small boats.

He says the storm surge was at least 6 feet deep on his island, 76 miles from Irma’s eye. He can see now that structures survived, but the storm left a big mess at ground level.

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7 p.m.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office says water began leaking through the roof at the Germain Arena shelter in Estero just as the eye of Hurricane Irma drew near.

Thousands of evacuees have crowded into the minor-league hockey stadium, which seats about 8,400 people and is being used as a shelter.

The sheriff’s office posted on Facebook that authorities are monitoring the problem.

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6:50 p.m.

Florida officials are urging people to stay in their homes and shelters, even if it looks like Hurricane Irma has passed.

Miami-Dade County spokesman Mike Hernandez said he’s seen reports of people leaving the county’s hurricane shelters. It’s too early for that, he says: “Just because it seems like the weather is clearing up, that doesn’t mean it’s safe to get out on the roads.

Miami Dade remains under curfew, much of it without electricity, and with downed power lines, flooding and poor visibility, moving around could be deadly.

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6:45 p.m.

An airborne relief mission is bringing emergency supplies to the Florida Keys, where Hurricane Irma made landfall Sunday morning.

Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said help is coming in C-130 cargo planes and other air resources.

Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt calls it a humanitarian crisis.

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6:30 p.m.

Hurricane Irma should be moving directly over the Tampa Bay area around midnight. Residents of the highly populated area are fearing the worst.

A report by CoreLogic, the global property data firm, found nearly 455,000 Tampa Bay homes could be damaged by storm surges, the most of any major US metro area other than Miami and New York. Rebuilding those homes could cost $81 billion.

The reason Tampa Bay is so vulnerable is that the bay acts as a funnel for storm surges, forcing water into narrow channels with nowhere else to go.

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6:20 p.m.

The National Hurricane Center reports water levels are rising rapidly in Naples from Hurricane Irma’s storm surge. A federal tide gauge in Naples reported a 7 foot rise of water in just 90 minutes.

A wind gust of 142 mph (229 kph) was recorded at the Naples Municipal Airport as the storm kept its top sustained wind speed of 110 mph (175 kph).

Irma has picked up forward speed and is moving inland at 14 mph (22 kph) and its eye is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south southeast of Fort Myers.

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6:10 p.m.

Lauren Durham and Michael Davis had big plans for a beach wedding this month. Hurricane Irma had bigger plans.

So instead of a poofy white dress, Durham got married in her Air National Guard fatigues, with no makeup, in a vast hangar filled with rescue vehicles in Orlando. Davis is a senior airman in the guard, like his bride, so they had called to say they’d miss their own wedding.

Then on Sunday, a friend joked that they should get married during the hurricane. Dozens of people helped out, and a fellow guard member happens to be a notary and officiated. Someone even came up with a bouquet of flowers.

The happy couple believes in service before self, and besides, they figure it’ll be a great story to tell their kids one day.

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6 p.m.

President Donald Trump has declared a major disaster in the state of Florida, making federal aid available to people affected by Hurricane Irma in nine counties already hit by the storm.

The federal help includes temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans for uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover in the counties of Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pinellas, and Sarasota.

Federal funding also is available to governments and non-profit organizations for emergencies in all 67 Florida counties. For the first 30 days, that money will cover 100 percent of the costs of some emergency responses.

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5:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump says the U.S. may have gotten a “little bit lucky” after Hurricane Irma veered from its original course and headed west along Florida’s coast.

He says Irma may not have been quite as destructive as a result, but that things will play out over the next several hours.

Trump addressed reporters Sunday after returning to the White House from Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland where he spent the weekend monitoring the storm.

Trump says Irma will cost “a lot of money” but he isn’t thinking about that right now.

He says “right now, we’re worried about lives, not cost.”

Trump says he’ll be having additional meetings about coordination for the storm response.

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5:15 p.m.

Hurricane Irma has weakened to a Category 2 storm, technically losing its major hurricane status, after making landfall in southwestern Florida. It is over land but hugging the coast as it moves north.

The National Hurricane Center said Irma’s winds were at 110 mph (177 kph), just below major hurricane status, as the center of the still dangerous and wide storm moved farther inland. It was 5 miles (8 kilometers) north of Naples late Sunday afternoon. It came ashore on Marco Island at 3:35 p.m.

The hurricane center says “although weakening is forecast, Irma is expected to remain a hurricane at least through Monday morning.”

The hurricane center says the eye of Irma should hug Florida’s west coast through Monday morning and then push more inland over northern Florida and southwestern Georgia on Monday afternoon. The forecast puts the storm generally over the populated Tampa-St. Petersburg region a couple hours after midnight into Monday morning.

Jeff Masters is meteorology director of the private Weather Underground. He says the fact that the storm approached the Tampa region from over land and from the south could slightly reduce the expected storm surge, although he says it will still be dangerous.

Irma is producing deluges of 2 to 4 inches (5 to 13 centimeters) of rain an hour, which can cause flash flooding.

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5:15 p.m.

The storm surge near Cudjoe Key may be flooding the nearby Florida Key Deer Refuge, home to fewer than 1,000 of the endangered Key deer.

The unique subspecies of white-tailed deer about 3 feet (1 meter) tall at the shoulder, the size of a large dog, but wildlife officials were not immediately concerned that the herd had been lost to floodwaters.

Dan Clark is refuge manager for the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex. He says the deer are “excellent swimmers.”

Clark evacuated his staff Wednesday, and he spoke with The Associated Press by phone from Pinellas County.

He says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff planned to return as soon as weather permitted to begin assessing how the deer and other endangered species fared throughout the narrow, low-lying island chain.

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5:15 p.m.

Police in Florida have arrested nine people who were caught on TV cameras looting sneakers and other goods from a sporting goods store and a pawn shop during Hurricane Irma.

Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione said the group was arrested Sunday as the storm roared across South Florida. Maglione called the idea of stealing sneakers during a hurricane “a fairly bad life choice.”

Local TV images showed the alleged looters running in and out of a store through a broken window carrying boxes of sneakers.

It wasn’t immediately clear what charges those arrested would face. Their identities also were not immediately released.

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5:15 p.m.

South Florida Water Management District chief engineer John Mitnik says it will probably be 7 p.m. Sunday before the storm surge in Miami completely subsides. He said the district is prepared for the storm surge expected on the Gulf coast and will have crews out repairing canals and drainage equipment as soon as it is safe.

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5:15 p.m.

Wildlife officials say Florida residents and visitors should stay away from sea turtle nests and refrain from any attempts to save them from Hurricane Irma.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says in a news release that the public must not interfere with any sea turtle eggs, even if they think they’re helping.

Officials say sea turtles have a nesting strategy that accommodates natural storm events, with each female depositing several nests throughout the season. No storm season is a total loss for Florida’s sea turtles. Even in 2004, when Florida sustained direct hits from several hurricanes, officials say 42 percent of state’s loggerhead nests hatched, well within the normal range.

Anyone who sees exposed turtle eggs or nests should contact wildlife officials.

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5:15 p.m.

Officials are warning boaters to stay away from the Florida Keys in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said in an email Sunday evening that nearshore waters are filled with navigation hazards like debris, sunken boats, loose boats, buoys and markers.

Residents with boats already in the Keys should avoid driving them in the nearshore waters.

Hurricane Irma made landfall Sunday morning in Cudjoe Key.

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4:30 p.m.

The Marco Island police department is warning people who didn’t evacuate to get to higher floors in their buildings.

The department issued the warning in a tweet on Sunday just as Hurricane Irma made landfall on the island.

Forecasts have called for life-threatening storm surge of up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) along the coast.

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4:30 p.m.

The University of Miami will not reopen either its main campus in Coral Gables or its Marine campus before Sept. 18 while it assesses the damage caused by Hurricane Irma.

The school says it is “proactively planning the recovery process.” Numerous out-of-state students went back home last week to wait out the storm and it remains unclear when they will even be able to travel back to South Florida.

Miami’s annual football rivalry game with Florida State has already been pushed back to Oct. 7. It had been scheduled for Sept. 16 in Tallahassee, the state capital that is also in Irma’s projected path.

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4:30 p.m.

Electric car maker Tesla says it has temporarily increased the battery capacity of some of its cars to help drivers escaping Hurricane Irma.

The electric car maker said the battery boost was applied to Model S and X cars in the Southeast. Some drivers only buy 60 or 70 kilowatt hours of battery capacity, but a software change will give them access to 75 kilowatt hours of battery life until Saturday. Depending on the model, that could let drivers travel about 40 more miles before they would need to recharge their cars.

Tesla said it made the change after a customer asked the company for help evacuating. The company said it’s possible it will make similar changes in response to similar events in the future.

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3:45 p.m.

Hurricane Irma has made landfall on Marco Island, Florida, as a Category 3 hurricane.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Irma’s powerful eye roared ashore at Marco Island just south of Naples with 115-mph (185-kph) winds, for a second U.S. landfall at 3:35 p.m. Sunday.

Category 3 storms have winds from 111 to 129 mph, but 130-mph (21-kph) wind gust was recently reported by the Marco Island Police Department.

Irma’s second U.S. landfall was tied for the 21st strongest landfall in the U.S. based on central pressure. Irma’s first U.S. landfall in the Florida Keys was tied for 7th.

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3:30 p.m.

More than 2.1 million customers have lost power in Florida with Hurricane Irma striking the state.

Florida Power & Light reported the numbers Sunday afternoon. The utility, which services much of south Florida, says more than 845,000 of those customers are in Miami-Dade County.

Duke Energy, the dominant utility in the northern half of Florida, has about 13,000 outages with the outer bands of Irma sweeping across the region.

The power companies say they have extra crews on hand to try to restore power — when it becomes safe to do so.

FPL spokesman Rob Gould says an estimated 3.4 million homes and businesses will lose power once the worst of Irma reaches the Florida mainland.

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3:30 p.m.

Hurricane Irma is affecting the House of Representative’s work schedule in Washington.

A notice from the House majority leader’s office says the House now doesn’t plan to take any votes Monday because of “the large number of absences” as a result of the storm.

The first votes of the week are expected Tuesday evening.

The House leadership will keep tabs on the situation and announce updates as necessary.

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3:15 p.m.

The eye of Hurricane Irma is nearing Naples, Florida, and continues to cause destruction over a wide swath of South Florida.

The National Hurricane Center said Irma had winds of 120 mph (195 kilometers) and was centered 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Naples on Sunday afternoon. It was moving north at 12 mph (19 kilometers per hour). At that rate, the center of the storm should come ashore sometime between 4 and 5 p.m.

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3:30 p.m.

Hurricane Irma has pushed water out of a bay in Tampa, but forecasters are telling people not to venture out there, because it’s going to return with a potentially deadly vengeance.

On Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, approximately 100 people were walking Sunday afternoon on what was Old Tampa Bay — a body of water near downtown. Hurricane Irma’s winds and low tide have pushed the water unusually far from its normal position. Some people are venturing as far as 200 yards (180 meters) out to get to the water’s new edge. The water is normally about 4 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) deep and reaches a seawall.

The U.S. Hurricane Center has sent out an urgent alert warning of a “life-threatening storm surge inundation of 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) above ground level” and telling people to “MOVE AWAY FROM THE WATER!”

The waters retracted because the leading wind bands of Irma whipped the coastal water more out to sea. But once the eye passes and the wind reverses, the water will rush back in.

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3:30 p.m. Hurricane Irma is affecting the House of Representative’s work schedule in Washington.

A notice from the House majority leader’s office says the House now doesn’t plan to take any votes Monday because of “the large number of absences” as a result of the storm.

The first votes of the week are expected Tuesday evening.

The House leadership will keep tabs on the situaton and announce updates as necessary.

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3:15 p.m.

Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso says a second tower crane has collapsed into a building under construction in the city’s downtown area. Alfonso told The Associated Press that the crane collapsed in a large development with multiple towers being built by Grand Paraiso.

Another crane collapsed earlier Sunday onto a high-rise building that’s under construction in a bayfront area filled with hotels and high-rise condo and office buildings, near AmericanAirlines Arena. Officials said no one was injured as the result of either crane’s collapse.

High winds are impeding Miami authorities’ ability to reach the cranes, and authorities are urging people to avoid the areas.

Alfonso says the approximately two-dozen other cranes in the city are still upright and built to withstand significant wind gusts.

The tower cranes working on construction sites throughout the city were a concern ahead of Irma. Moving the massive equipment, weighing up to 30,000 pounds (13,600 kilograms), is a slow process that would have taken about two weeks, according to city officials.

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2 p.m.

The National Hurricane Center says a slightly weakened but still powerful Irma will slam the Naples and Marco Island with its strongest winds in a couple of hours.

Irma’s winds dropped to 120 mph (195 kilometers per hour), down from 130 mph, and forecasters say it should weaken a bit more before landfall. But it still expected to a strong major hurricane as it rakes Florida from its western edges across to the east.

The storm is 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of Naples and has picked up speed moving north at 12 mph (19 kilometers per hour).

The now Category 3 hurricane will keep on battering all of South Florida with high wind and surge, forecasters say. The hurricane center in western Miami, across the state from the eye of the mammoth storm, recorded an 81 mph (130 kilometers per hour) wind gust.

“This is a life-threatening situation,” the hurricane center posted.

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2 p.m.

An apparent tornado spun off by Hurricane Irma has destroyed six mobile homes in Florida.

Palm Bay Police Department Lt. Mike Bandish said no one was injured in Sunday’s tornado, but that a 93-year-old man refused to leave his damaged home. He told Florida Today that officers tried to convince him to leave, but he wouldn’t.

Palm Bay is on Florida’s central Atlantic Coast near the Kennedy Space Center. The eye of Irma was hundreds of miles away when the tornado struck.

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2 p.m.

Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke says she doesn’t have any doubt that the federal government can respond to Hurricane Irma and the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey simultaneously.

Duke spoke Sunday afternoon at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters. Talking about efforts to respond to Irma in Florida and the aftermath of Harvey in Texas she says, “I know we’re ready and … I don’t have any doubt … that as a federal government we can do this and will do this.”

Duke says she and FEMA chief Brock Long spoke earlier Sunday with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and that they are “absolutely pleased with the response” and that they “understand that we’re just getting started in many ways.”

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2 p.m.

Some exterior paneling of AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, home of the NBA’s Heat, has been damaged by wind. The arena is near the downtown Miami location where a crane snapped as Irma pounded away Sunday. But a team official told The Associated Press that an initial investigation showed no structural damage. They’ll investigate further once conditions make it safe for workers to be outside. The Heat do not play in the arena until their preseason opener on Oct. 1.

At Raymond James Stadium in Tampa — where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play football — local, regional and statewide authorities are using the parking lots and surroundings as a staging area for high-water vehicles and equipment. On Saturday afternoon, several U.S. Marine amphibious vehicles were parked side by side, giant tanks that are ready to plunge into floodwater if needed.

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2 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says members of his family who evacuated from Naples ahead of Hurricane Irma are leaving again now that it appears the killer storm will descend on the state capital.

Scott’s wife, First Lady Ann Scott, as well as his daughter, his son-in-law and grandchildren left southwest Florida and came to the state capital. Scott owns a waterfront mansion in an area that is in the path of the hurricane.

But Scott said Sunday that his daughter and grandchildren will be leaving Tallahassee to go to Washington, D.C. His daughter just gave birth to twins. Scott said it would be “tough for them if we lose power.”

The governor said he doesn’t know what storm preparations have taken place at the governor’s mansion, located a few blocks north of the Capitol. He said he “hasn’t really been there” because he has been in other parts of the state or at the state emergency operations center.

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2 p.m.

Major General Michael Calhoun, the head of Florida’s National Guard, says that more than 10,000 National Guard members from other states are going to be coming into the state.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has already called up 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard to help with recovery efforts from Hurricane Irma. Those members have been dispatched to shelters around the state and will be involved in handing out supplies in storm-ravaged areas once Irma has passed through.

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2 p.m.

Georgia’s governor has declared an emergency for the entire state as Hurricane Irma’s approach triggers widespread severe-weather threats, including the first-ever tropical storm warning for Atlanta.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s new emergency declaration came Sunday as Irma churned near Florida. The National Hurricane Center predicted the storm’s center to cross Monday into southwest Georgia, where a hurricane warning was issued for communities including Albany and Valdosta.

Portions of western Alabama and coastal South Carolina were also under tropical-storm warnings.

The National Weather Service confirmed it had never before issued a tropical-storm warning for Atlanta, where wind gusts could reach 55 mph (88 kph). Meanwhile Savannah and the rest of coastal Georgia were under evacuation orders for the second time since Hurricane Matthew brushed the region last October.

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2 p.m.

More than 500 emergency responders are sleeping on cots in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, waiting to dispatch to areas devastated by Hurricane Irma.

The convention center had planned to host an elevator-industry gathering this weekend. Instead, more than 1,000 emergency vehicles are lined up in its halls: boats, ambulances, fork lifts, buses, 18-wheelers, fire trucks, and 62 helicopters.

Rescue teams from Florida, Colorado, New York, California and Arizona were checking their gear and resting up so that they would be prepared to hit the road as soon as the storm clears. Some of those emergency workers never even made it home from responding to Hurricane Harvey before turning around and deploying to Florida.

Sean Gallagher is with the Florida Forest Service, which is coordinating the staging operation. He says the convention center’s loading dock doors will close as soon as the winds in Orlando rise to hurricane levels to protect the vehicles and responders inside and won’t open again until the winds die down.

Then, rapid response teams will rush into the most devastated areas to do recognizance and triage where the rescue operations are most needed.

Until then, they are crammed in the convention center’s side rooms and cots. The convention center has pallets of 13,000 ready-to-eat meals.

Aaron Janssen is a helicopter mechanic with a medical aviation company. He’s sleeping in a tent next to his helicopter, with his wife and 9-year-old Chihuahua named Marley. He didn’t want to leave them behind at their Orlando home while he worked.

Marley spent the day chasing a pigeon around the hangar.

“She’s loving it,” he said. “She hadn’t figured out yet that she’s never going to catch that pigeon.”

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2 p.m.

Miami Beach officials say emergency services have been suspended until winds drop below 40 mph (64 kph), and no one will be allowed into the city until roads have been cleared. The city would continue a mandatory 8 p.m. curfew for the next two nights.

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2 p.m.

Actor Robert De Niro says a resort development company he is involved with on Barbuda will work with local officials to help with reconstruction on the island devastated by Hurricane Irma.

De Niro says in a statement that he was “beyond saddened to learn of the devastation” in Barbuda.

The actor is a principal in the Paradise Found Nobu Resort planned for Barbuda. Construction has not yet started on the project.

He said the company will work with local officials to “to successfully rebuild what nature has taken away from us.”

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne says 90 percent of the structures and vehicles on the small island were destroyed in the storm. A 2-year-old boy was killed. About 1,400 people live on the island and most have now been evacuated to Antigua.

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2 p.m.

The State Department says it and the Defense Department are resuming their evacuation of U.S. citizens from Sint Maarten via a military flight to Puerto Rico.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says the department is communicating with Americans there through social media, radio, and by phone.

The department also is coordinating with AirBnB to identify and communicate with U.S. citizens not located at hotels who may have rented residences on the island.

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2 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence says Hurricane Irma is a “storm of historic, epic proportions.”

Pence spoke Sunday afternoon while visiting the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington. He says that President Donald Trump has been monitoring the storm “24/7.”

Pence says “the people of Florida need to know that our hearts and our prayers and all of our efforts are with them and will be with them until this storm passes.”

Pence says Irma “continues to be a very dangerous storm” and he urged people to “heed the warnings of local officials” to either shelter in place or evacuate, depending on where they are.

He says Irma is a “very dangerous storm” and a “life-threatening storm.”

Pence says “it’s enormously important that every American in the path of this storm take the warnings of state and local officials to heart.”

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1:30 p.m.

Florida Power & Light says it will be weeks, not days, before electricity is fully restored because of the damage being done by Hurricane Irma.

Spokesman Rob Gould said Sunday that an estimated 3.4 million homes and businesses will lose power once the worst of Irma reaches the Florida mainland. He expects thousands of miles (kilometers) of poles and lines will need to be replaced, particularly on the Gulf coast. As of Sunday afternoon, about 1.5 million customers were without power.

He said 17,000 restoration workers from as far away as California and Massachusetts are already stationed around the state, but it will take time to rebuild the system.

The utility covers much of the state, including most cities on the Atlantic coast and the Gulf coast south of Tampa. It does not cover Tampa and St. Petersburg, two major cities in Irma’s forecast path.

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1:30 p.m.

At least 25 people in one Florida county have been arrested for violating a curfew imposed as Hurricane Irma approached the state.

Palm Beach County authorities say the arrests were made after a 3 p.m. Saturday curfew was imposed. The misdemeanor charge can carry a fine of up to $500 and potentially 60 days in jail.

Officials announced the curfew as a safety measure and to prevent looting and other crimes. They say some of those arrested could face other charges, such as drug possession or drunken driving.

The curfew will be lifted after a storm damage assessment is done.

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1:30 p.m.

A meteorologist calculates that Hurricane Irma will dump about 10 trillion gallons (38 trillion liters) of rain on Florida over a day-and-a-half time period. That’s about 500,000 gallons (1.9 trillion liters) for every Florida resident.

Private meteorologist Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Analytics based his calculations on weather service forecasts. He also calculates it will dump 6 trillion gallons (23 trillion liters) on Georgia.

By comparison, Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over the Texas coast, dumped about 20 trillion gallons (76 trillion liters) on Texas and 7 trillion gallons (26 trillion liters) of rain on Louisiana in about five days. One place around Houston got more than 50 inches (130 centimeters) of rain. Irma is expected to crawl steadily through the Sunshine State.

The National Hurricane Center projects 15 to 20 inches (38 to 50 centimeters) of rain with spots up to 25 inches (64 centimeters) for the Florida Keys. Western Florida is forecast to get 10 to 15 inches of rain (25 to 38 centimeters), with as much as 20 inches (50 centimeters) in spots. The rest of Florida and southeastern Georgia is projected to get 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 centimeters) of rain, with isolated outbursts up to 16 inches (40 centimeters).

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1:30 p.m.

Emergency workers in inflatable boats are navigating flooded streets along Havana’s coast, where thousands of people left their homes for safer ground before Hurricane Irma hit Cuba.

Seawater has penetrated as much as 1,600 feet (500 meters) inland in parts of the city. Trees are toppled, roofs have been torn off, cement water tanks have fallen from roofs to the ground and electrical lines are down.

Elena Villar is a Havana resident whose home of 30 years filled with more than 6 feet (2 meters) of water.

She was on the edge of tears Sunday as she said: “I have lost everything.”

Villar and her mother spent the night huddling in the lobby of a higher building nearby as the storm raked the city.

In her words: “I have never seen a disaster like this.”

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1:30 p.m.

Thanks to Hurricane Irma, Savannah, Georgia, has been evacuated for the second time in less than a year. Atlanta, meanwhile, is under a tropical-storm warning for the first time ever.

Nearly all of Georgia was under some type of severe-weather warning Sunday as Irma churned near Florida. The National Hurricane Center predicted the storm’s center to cross Monday into southwest Georgia, where a hurricane warning was issued for communities including Albany and Valdosta.

Portions of western Alabama and coastal South Carolina were also under tropical-storm warnings.

The National Weather Service confirmed it had never before issued a tropical-storm warning for Atlanta, where wind gusts could reach 55 mph (88 kph). That’s nothing new to Savannah and the rest of coastal Georgia, which evacuated last October for Hurricane Matthew.

___

1:10 p.m.

The White House says President Donald Trump has received a “comprehensive update” on Hurricane Irma.

Irma plowed into the Florida Keys on Sunday and was forecast to march up the state’s west coast.

Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and several Cabinet members participated in the briefing from Camp David — the presidential retreat where Trump has spent the weekend monitoring the storm.

Other administration officials joined in from the White House or Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington.

Pence and several Cabinet secretaries are planning to visit FEMA headquarters later Sunday.

The White House says Trump has spoken with the governors of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Irma could affect all four states.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says he also spoke with Trump on Sunday.

___

1:05 p.m.

Deputies shot and wounded a burglar and arrested his accomplice at a Florida home as Hurricane Irma blew in.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office said in a news release Sunday that the homeowners in Weston were out of town but saw the burglars remotely inside the house through a home surveillance system.

Deputies responded shortly before 3 a.m. and one of the two juvenile males was shot outside the home. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries. The other person was arrested.

Their names were not immediately released.

___

12:55 p.m.

High winds are impeding Miami authorities’ ability to reach a construction crane toppled by Hurricane Irma.

The crane fell onto a high-rise building that’s under construction. It’s in a bayfront area filled with hotels and high-rise condo and office buildings, near AmericanAirlines Arena.

Miami-Dade County Director of Communications Mike Hernandez said emergency personnel couldn’t immediately respond to the scene because of high winds. Authorities urged people to avoid the area after the Sunday morning collapse. It wasn’t clear if there were any injuries.

Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso said the approximately two-dozen other cranes in the city are still upright and built to withstand significant wind gusts.

The tower cranes working on construction sites throughout the city were a concern ahead of Irma. Moving the massive equipment, weighing up to 30,000 pounds, is a slow process that would have taken about two weeks, according to city officials.

____

12:20 p.m.

Florida sheriff’s deputies rescued a couple who tried to ride out Hurricane Irma on a small sailboat.

Christine Weiss of the Martin County Sheriff’s Office said a passer-by noticed the couple was in trouble Sunday. It happened just off Jensen Beach, which is on the Atlantic Coast north of Palm Beach.

Video shows a Martin County patrol boat manned by deputies John Howell and James Holloran and Detective Mathew Fritchie pulling up next to the sailboat.

The task of helping the couple onto their boat was precarious as both boats bobbed in choppy water. Deputies then took them to shore.

The names of the couple were not released. They were not injured.

___

12:10 p.m.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says the death toll caused by Hurricane Irma on the Caribbean territory of St. Maarten has risen to four.

Rutte said Sunday, “unfortunately there are more victims to mourn” after the bodies of two people washed up on the island. He says the identities of the victims are not yet known.

One of the four people listed as victims by the Dutch authorities died of natural causes as the Category 5 hurricane lashed St. Maarten, badly damaging or destroying 70 percent of homes on the Dutch part of the Caribbean island.

___

11:40 a.m.

Some Miami Police officers remembered to pack an essential in their hurricane survival pack: Cuban coffee known as cafecito.

The department tweeted a picture showing a coffee maker atop a camp stove. It read: “As our officers ride out the storm, some have brought the (hashtag) Miami essentials to help them get through the night.”

The strongly caffeinated brew is a staple in Miami.

Former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said this week he’d check Cuban coffee stands to gauge Irma’s impacts on Miami.

Fugate is known for creating the so-called “Waffle House Index.” Fugate used the Southern restaurant chain as a benchmark for how quickly local communities could rebound from hurricanes.

Waffle House are known for being open most of the time. Under the index, a closed Waffle House was a bad sign. There are no Waffle Houses in Miami, so Fugate suggested an alternative.

“Cuban coffee stands – if those are closed, it is bad,” he told AP.

___

11:25 a.m.

President Donald Trump has spoken with the governors of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee as Hurricane Irma moves north.

All four states could be affected by the storm, which struck the Florida Keys on Sunday.

The White House says Trump spoke with the officials Sunday from the Camp David presidential retreat, where he was spending the weekend.

Trump has been in regular contract with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio over the past week. Chief of staff John Kelly spoke Sunday with Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were scheduled to receive an updated Irma briefing on Sunday.

___

11:15 a.m.

As Hurricane Irma evacuees fill up Atlanta hotels and shelters, folks are getting creative to offer them a hand.

About 100 of America’s top chefs who had gathered for their annual summit changed gears. They pivoted their planned Monday agenda on “heritage grains” and “how to cut food waste.” Now, instead, the chefs will prepare a gourmet feast for Irma refugees and serve it at a church.

Hotels were full Sunday morning. At the luxury Georgian Terrace Hotel, staff were flexible with rules to accommodate evacuees. Guests walked pit bulls through the lobby. Large families pulled roller bags and clutched blankets as they squeezed into small rooms without enough beds.

A block away, a church offered free hugs for evacuees.

And a chalkboard sign outside a restaurant offered a discount: “30% OFF Food with FLORIDA ID for Hurricane evacuees.”

___

11:05 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center says Category 4 Hurricane Irma is now “headed for the southwest Florida coast” as winds continue to pick up speed in all of South Florida.

Irma continues to be armed with 130 mph winds as its large eye passes north of the Keys.

Storm surge is forecast for 10 to 15 feet in southwestern Florida.

Hurricane-force winds are continuing throughout southern Florida, including the Keys. The hurricane center warns that winds affecting upper floors of high-rise building will be much stronger than at ground level.

The hurricane center also emphasizes that Irma will bring life-threatening wind to much of Florida regardless of the exact track of its center.

___

10:55 a.m.

Puerto Rico’s governor says there will be no classes on Monday because hundreds of schools still do not have power or water after the island took a hit from Hurricane Irma.

Ricardo Rossello said Sunday that more than 600 schools don’t have power and more than 400 don’t have water. Another nearly 400 schools don’t have either, and dozens are flooded.

Nearly 600,000 people in the U.S. territory remain without power, representing 40 percent of customers of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

___

10:50 a.m.

The National Weather Service says that a crane has collapsed in Miami as strong wind from Hurricane Irma blows in.

It’s one of two-dozen in the city.

The weather service’s Miami office said in a Tweet that one of its employees witnessed the crane boom and counterweight collapse in downtown Miami. The employee captured video of the collapse.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the collapse caused damage or injuries.

The cranes have been a concern.

Construction sites across Irma’s potential path in Florida were locked down to remove or secure building materials, tools and debris that could be flung by Irma’s winds.

But the horizontal arms of the tall tower cranes remained loose despite the potential danger of collapse. According to city officials, it would have taken about two weeks to move the cranes and there wasn’t enough time.

___

10:40 a.m.

Hurricane Irma’s large eye is beginning to move slowly away from the Florida Keys as it continues north with 130 mph (215 kph) winds.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami reported that the center of core of Irma is about 25 miles (40 km) northeast of Key West.

Irma is so wide that a gust of 93 mph (150 kph) was measured near Key Largo at the other end of the Florida Keys.

___

10:35 a.m.

A Florida Keys refuge for a unique subspecies of deer is in the crosshairs of Hurricane Irma.

The Florida Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key is about 10 miles from where the storm made landfall Sunday morning.

It’s the only place in world where you find Key deer, a unique subspecies of white-tailed deer about 3 feet tall at the shoulder — the size of a large dog.

The herd faced a potential extinction event last year when the first screwworm infestation in the U.S. in 30 years. Fewer than 1,000 of the endangered deer remain, and the parasites that eat the flesh of living mammals killed 135 Key deer before state and federal agriculture authorities stopped the infestation earlier this year.

___

10:30 a.m.

France’s Interior Minister expressed relief that Hurricane Jose spared French Caribbean islands St. Martin and St. Barts further devastation.

Gerard Collomb, speaking at a press conference in Paris Sunday, said that Jose passed miles away.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for France’s government defended its handling of the hurricane crisis in St. Martin and St. Barts amid criticism that many in the local population felt abandoned by authorities.

Christophe Castaner, speaking in an interview with Europe1-CNews-Les Echos on Sunday, said he “perfectly (understood) the anger” of residents after Hurricane Irma tore through the French Caribbean islands, killing several people, destroying houses and cutting off the water supply. Some shops were subsequently looted by locals.

But he insisted the means deployed by the government were robust — with emergency help given “first priority.”

___

10:25 a.m.

Florida officials say 127,000 people across the state have taken refuge in more than 500 shelters as Hurricane Irma takes aim at the state.

The state Division of Emergency Management did not specify which shelters had the most people.

Meanwhile, utility officials were warning that the storm could leave millions without power by the time it finishes moving through the state. Already, more than 1.3 million Florida customers were in the dark on Sunday morning as the hurricane made landfall in the Florida Keys.

Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility, is reporting on Sunday that many people living in the three populous south Florida counties of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach are without power. State officials say another 64,000 customers who rely on smaller utilities have also lost electricity.

___

10:10 a.m.

For the first time, a tropical storm warning has been issued for the city of Atlanta.

The National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Georgia, said Sunday it was the first time such a warning had been issued for the metro Atlanta area. High wind warnings have been issued in previous storms.

The warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected within the next 36 hours. Peak winds were expected to reach 30 to 40 mph (48 to 64 kph) with gusts of up to 55 mph (88 kph).

The weather service says storm threats include damage to porches, carports, sheds and unanchored mobile homes. Roads may become impassable due to debris. Power outages could occur.

___

9:50 a.m.

Hurricane Irma became tied for the seventh strongest storm to make landfall in U.S. history by a key measurement of atmospheric pressure.

Hurricane Irma made landfall at Cudjoe Key at 9:10 a.m. with a minimum central pressure of 929 millibars. Atmospheric pressure is one of the major measurements meteorologists use to describe storms. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm.

Only six storms on record had lower pressures when striking the United States, including Katrina. When Katrina hit in 2005, it had lower pressure but its wind speed kept it at Category 3.

The 929 pressure mark ties Irma with the deadly 1928 Lake Okeechobee hurricane.

Irma’s arrival also marks another first.

Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach says this is the first year on record that the United States has been hit by two storms that were Category 4 upon landfall: Harvey and Irma.

___

9:45 a.m.

As Hurricane Irma threatened to wallop the St. Petersburg area, several folks got out on the beach ahead of the storm.

As they milled about Sunday morning, they looked at sailboats bobbing in the wind as the sun rose and took selfies and photos of the beach.

St. Petersburg resident John Leuders says he feels safe. With stores out of plywood, he tore down part of his fence to board up windows. He came down to the beach out of curiosity and noted the strong winds along the water.

Another resident, Sally Carlson, says she’s been around for other storms and hurricanes, but this one scares her. She says she wanted to see the city one more time before any problems.

She adds: “I’m hoping it comes out unscathed, but I know better.”

___

9:40 a.m.

Florida utility officials say more than 1 million customers have lost power as Hurricane Irma hits the state.

Florida Power & Light Company said that nearly 1.1 million customers statewide were without power Sunday morning.

About 574,000 of those outages were in Miami-Dade County, while there were 360,000 in Broward and nearly 136,000 in Palm Beach County.

Irma Restrengthens to Category 4 Storm

September 10, 2017

Hurricane moves toward Florida Keys

 Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Hurricane Irma’s Expected Path Through Florida: What You Need to Know
On track to hit the Florida Keys Sunday morning, Hurricane Irma is expected to move westward, bringing deadly winds and surges up the Gulf Coast and inland. Here’s what you need to know. Photo: AP

MIAMI—Hurricane Irma—one of the most powerful storms to cross the Atlantic—is forecast to hit the Florida Keys around daybreak Sunday before continuing on a path that threatens catastrophic flooding along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Parts of Florida were experiencing tropical-storm force winds Saturday evening. “We have been very aggressive in our preparation for this storm and now it’s upon us,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. “Every Floridian should take this seriously and be aggressive to protect their family.”

Deadly storm surges could inundate parts of the state’s southwest coast with as much as 15 feet of water, the National Hurricane Center said, and much of the state will see “life-threatening wind impacts” regardless of the hurricane’s exact path.

Mr. Scott hammered home the danger from rising waters Saturday. “There’s a serious threat of significant storm surge flooding along the entire west coast of Florida,” the governor said. “Think about that: 15 feet is devastating and will cover your house.”

Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida

Hurricane Irma is expected to bring deadly winds and storm surges to Florida’s Gulf Coast and inland

https://www.wsj.com/articles/hurricane-irmas-approach-shifts-to-floridas-gulf-coast-keeps-state-in-thrall-1504966529

Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
Photos: Hurricane Irma Churns Toward Florida
 https://www.wsj.com/articles/hurricane-irmas-approach-shifts-to-floridas-gulf-coast-keeps-state-in-thrall-1504966529
A car road along the shoulder to pass other cars on Saturday in evacuation traffic on I-75 north, near Brooksville, Fla., in advance of Hurricane Irma’s landing. In some parts of the state, authorities allowed people to drive on the shoulder to speed the evacuation.
GERALD HERBERT/ASSOCIATED PRESS
1 of 22

https://www.wsj.com/articles/hurricane-irmas-approach-shifts-to-floridas-gulf-coast-keeps-state-in-thrall-1504966529

Heavily populated Tampa Bay could see a storm surge of 5 to 8 feet, the hurricane center said.

The state of 20.6 million people has been readying itself for days as Irma barreled into the Caribbean, killing at least 22 people and battering islands with winds in excess of 150 miles per hour. Early Sunday morning, Irma was headed for the U.S. mainland as a Category 4 storm after regaining strength. The storm is expected to continue to strengthen as it moves through the Straits of Florida and to remain strong as it nears the Florida Keys and state’s Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center said.

Irma would bring a punishing cocktail of destructive winds, major storm surge, torrential rains, the possibility of tornadoes and widespread power outages, said Alan Albanese, senior meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Key West.

“This is a very serious threat, potentially catastrophic,” he said. “A lot of people down here in the Keys have not experienced anything with the potential this system has.”

High-Water Areas

Hurricane Irma has the potential to cause significant storm-surge heights around South Florida.

West Palm Beach

Cape Coral

Around 6:45 p.m. Saturday, a “confirmed large and extremely dangerous” tornado was over Lauderdale Lakes or near Plantation in the Fort Lauderdale area, moving west at 35 miles per hour, the National Weather Service said on Twitter.

Florida officials have warned that Irma could be worse than Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 storm that devastated South Florida 25 years ago. Andrew killed 61 people in the U.S. and caused nearly $48 billion in economic damage in 2017 dollars, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—the costliest storm in U.S. history until Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“The storm surge will rush in and it could kill you,” the governor said.

The leading edge of the immense storm bent palm trees and spit rain across South Florida, knocking out power to more than 170,000 homes and businesses, the Associated Press reported.

Hurricane Irma’s westward shift toward the Gulf Coast brought some sense of relief to cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale but heightened fears of catastrophic flooding on Florida’s west coast. The hurricane center warns the storm surge could reach 10 to 15 feet above ground from Captiva Island, west of Fort Myers, to the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. That warning is an increase from the 8- to 12-foot range forecast Friday night.

Residents on the state’s west coast quickly shifted plans and hunkered down.

Wrede McCollum, who lives on Pine Island off Florida’s southwest coast, had planned to stay at a friend’s house—despite a mandatory evacuation order—because of reports of log-jammed highways and packed shelters. But after seeing the storm’s projected westward turn, Mr. McCollum and his friends decided to go to a shelter.

“The current track seems headed right for St. James City,” where he lives, he said by text. “Jangling a few nerves here.”

Lisa Tilson, a Boca Raton native, has been through many hurricanes but she worried about this one. She drove to her mother’s house in Sun City Center, a retirement community near Tampa on the Gulf Coast, only to find herself more squarely in Irma’s path. The family rushed to protect the home.

As the storm approached Saturday afternoon, Ms. Tilson planned to stay in one hallway with her daughters, while her mother, her mother’s partner and Ms. Tilson’s 80-year-old aunt stay in another, she said. “That’s where we are going to ride it out,” she said. “I’ve had a weird feeling in my stomach about this storm since I first heard about it.”

More than 6.3 million Florida residents, about 30% of the total, have been told to leave their homes, state officials say. Evacuations have led to long lines at gas stations, fuel shortages, traffic jams and overrun hotel rooms.

More than 70,000 Floridians have taken refuge in more than 385 shelters around the state.

Collier County, on Florida’s southwest coast, ordered additional evacuations Saturday even as officials were scrambling to find space in jammed shelters before Hurricane Irma brings potentially deadly storm surges.

The county told residents in single-story homes in the Lely Resort community to evacuate. Those living in two-story homes should “vertically evacuate” to the second level, said Dan Summers, the county’s emergency-services director.

He said about 15,000 people were in county shelters and acknowledged “it’s going to be difficult” at this point to find shelter space for everyone who needs it. Later Saturday, a synagogue and a church in Naples opened their doors as shelters, a county spokeswoman said.

Mr. Summers counseled patience after Irma arrives, likely Sunday afternoon. “This is going to be a waiting game,” he said. “When the storm gets here, we still have a long way to go. Be patient and understand that we may have a lot of damage to address.”

Fleeing South Florida

Densely populated areas of South Florida’s coast were under mandatory evacuation orders ahead of Hurricane Irma’s projected landfall. As of Friday night, dozens of hospitals and nursing homes and mobile home parks outside the zones had also been evacuated.

At Pompano Beach High School, north of Fort Lauderdale, evacuees were crowded into a cafeteria converted into a Broward County shelter on Saturday afternoon. The facility hit its 270-person capacity only hours after opening on Thursday, said Liz Lambert, a shelter manager.

Evacuees were sprawled on air mattresses, sleeping bags and blankets. Some passed the time reading books or playing cards. Others sat at tables eating free lunches of lasagna or pizza. A group of people stood in front of a TV, watching the latest news on the storm.

Terry Townsend, a 62-year-old photographer, said he arrived at the shelter late Friday night with his wife. The couple’s home, as well as four rental properties they own, are in an evacuation zone, so they spent all week girding the residences against the storm.

Mr. Townsend and his wife gathered clothes, water, food and cash and headed to the shelter, the first time they have ever done so in a hurricane. As it happens, they were celebrating their 27th wedding anniversary on Saturday—“with funky pizza,” Mr. Townsend said. “This is the most interesting anniversary we’ve had.”

Broward County, which is home to 1.9 million residents on Florida’s southeast coast, announced a curfew starting 4 p.m. Saturday.

“We are urging you to stay off the road,” Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said. “Our essential personnel will not be responding to 911 calls after winds reach 45 miles per hour.”

Write to Scott Calvert at scott.calvert@wsj.com, Arian Campo-Flores at arian.campo-flores@wsj.com and Cameron McWhirter at cameron.mcwhirter@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/hurricane-irmas-approach-shifts-to-floridas-gulf-coast-keeps-state-in-thrall-1504966529

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