Hurricane Irma: 'Just get out of its way' Donald Trump tells people in the storm's path as it starts to lash Florida

David Millward

Powerful winds from Hurricane Irma have begun battering Florida's southern shore ahead of the storm making landfall.

Even though the hurricane's eye is not expected to hit Florida until Monday,  gusts of 74 mph were recorded on Key West.

Shortly before 1 am local time  Irma was bearing down on Florida as a Category 3 hurricane.

"The storm is here," said Rick Scott, Florida's governor, as he urged people to get out of its path.

A quarter of the state’s population have been ordered to evacuate, with 51,000 people hunkered down in 300 shelters as Florida's governor issued a tornado warning.

In all 36 million people are under hurricane watch.

Florida’s streets were becoming deserted on Saturday as the state’s 20 million people prepared for the arrival of one of the most powerful storms ever to hit their region.

Donald Trump, who gathered his cabinet at Camp David, urged those in the path of the storm to obey all official instructions.

"Just get out of its way," he said.  "Property is replaceable but lives are not and safety has to come first." 

Irma, loitering off the coast of Cuba on Saturday afternoon, had been downgraded to a category three, but the strength was expected to surge once more as it approached the Florida Keys on Sunday morning and scooped up warm, shallow water.

Throughout the day Mr Scott cajoled Floridians to make their escape, before it was too late.

"This state has never seen anything like it."

He made a final plea for people to leave their homes if they were still in at-risk areas. 

“I urge everyone to talk to your neighbours, your family and friends,” he said.

“Every Floridian should take this seriously and be aggressive to protect your family. Your possessions can be replaced, your life cannot be replaced, your family cannot be replaced.He repeated his plea later in the day.

Here is the current, real-time satellite view of the storm.

"This is your last chance to make a good decision,” he said.

The latest projections show that the Florida west coast is now likely to suffer  the worst battering with storm surges of up to 15 feet in places.

 “Think about that. Fifteen feet is devastating and will cover your house,”  Mr  Scott said.

"That is a life threatening situation.”

In Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, a 4pm curfew came into effect. Curfews were also ordered in other parts of the state.

By 1am  local time around 200,000 people were without power in Florida.

Eventually it is feared that more than three million people could be left without electricity.

Hurricane Irma makes landfall in the Caribbean, in pictures

Emergency teams in the Keys were said by local press to be "shaken" by the latest forecasts, which showed it could be the biggest hit on the islands since 1935.

At least 25 people have been killed in the Caribbean as the hurricane left devastation in its wake.

Still a Category 5 storm when it crashed into Cuba in the early hours of Saturday, Irma weakened to Category 3 as it tore along the island's northern coastline, downing power lines, bending palm trees and sending huge waves crashing over sea walls.

Irma and Jose

The RAF has sent several aid planes to the Caribbean islands after the British territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands was "pummelled" by howling winds of up to 175mph and 20ft waves early on Friday. 

Following criticism of its response to the disaster, the Government announced a £32 million aid package spearheaded by the military. Almost 300 military personnel have left the UK as part of Operation Ruman, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

Hurricane Irma route

5:52AM

Tampa mayor preparing for Irma

 

5:38AM

Hurricane Jose bearing down on Caribbean, but weaker than expected

Another powerful storm, Category Four Hurricane Jose, was heading toward the same string of Caribbean islands Irma has pummeled in recent days, though it was now forecast to be weaker than initially expected.

The deteriorating weather grounded aircraft and prevented boats from bringing relief supplies to hard-hit islands.

4:49AM

Webcam captures somebody being knocked over by the waves

Even with Irma some way off the Florida coast, the waves are already powerful enough to send somebody flying.

 

4:42AM

Latest advice from the National Hurricane Centre

The centre is warning of an "imminent danger" of a life threatening storm surge and flooding in parts of Florida.

 

4:24AM

Tampa bracing itself for a tough few weeks 

Tampa had not expected to find itself in the storm's path, but the change of trajectory has made the city vulnerable.

A Red Cross volunteer (R) gives out room assignments at a shelter within the Pizzo Elementary School in Tampa, Florida, Credit: Jim Watson/AFP

"We train for this all year round," Bob  Buckhorn, Tampa's mayor told CNN. "We recognise living in Florida this was always a risk."

The risk faced by the city has been exacerbated by the fact that the storm surge is likely to coincide with high tide.

"What we have in Tampa is a predicament. We will emerge from it. But it will be a tough tough few weeks."

3:49AM

Around 140,000 without power

As the winds  begin to pound southern Florida, damage  is being done to the electrical infrastructure, "We have powerlines down, some transformers are down, but we are holding out," Major Richard Rand of North Miami Beach told CNN,

He estimated that around 140,000 people were without power in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

His officers are on the ground to head off the threat of looting. "We are trying to keep away the element we don't want in the city - breaking into our homes and businesses."

3:20AM

Dedicated pet shelter set up in Miami Dade

A school has been converted into a dedicated shelter for pets. Families can leave their animals there before going to a shelter of their own.

Dogs sit inside their cages as hundreds of people gather in a pet-friendly emergency shelter at the Miami-Dade County Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP

Elsewhere Southwest Airlines flew 60 animals stranded by Hurricane Harvey from Houston to San Diego.

Read more here

3:00AM

Hurricane Irma winds reaching 125mph

Hurricane Irma, which at 10 pm local time was less than 100 miles off Key West, has been strengthening, with winds reaching 125 mph, forecasters said.

 

2:20AM

'Time to talk about climate change' says Miami's Republican mayor'

Miami's mayor,  Mayor Tomás Regalado, has called on Donald Trump - who once dismissed climate change as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese - to think again.

“If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is," he said after declaring an emergency in his city.

“This is a truly, truly poster child for what is to come.”

“I don’t want to be political, but the fact of the matter is that this is a lesson that we need protection from nature,” he added. “So, I think this is a lesson for the people to say you know what? We have to be prepared.”

1:44AM

Wide ranging power cuts feared 

Already 76,000 people are without electricity. It is feared that outages could affect around 9 million people when Irma hits Florida

1:22AM

Winds reach Florida's southern shore 

Hurricane Irma's winds have started battering the southern shores of Florida, ahead of making landfall.

Dark clouds are seen over Miami's skyline before the arrival of Hurricane Irma Credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters

“The storm is here,” Florida's governor, told a news conference, adding that 25,000 people had already lost power.The full force of the hurricane is not expected until Sunday with Florida's west coast set to face the worst battering with storm surges reaching 15 feet in places.

1:06AM

'Just get out of its way'  - Donald Trump

President Donald Trump on Saturday has urged any U.S. residents still in Hurricane Irma's path to "just get out of its way" and not worry about possessions, as he monitored the powerful storm's advance on Florida from the secluded Camp David presidential retreat.

Irma was expected to strike the Florida Keys at daybreak Sunday, with Hurricane Jose following closely behind.

Donald Trump holds a cabinet meeting about Hurricane Irma, at Camp Davi Credit: White House Photo/Twitter

Trump said Irma is a "storm of enormous destructive power and I ask everyone in the storm path to heed all instructions, get out of its way."

"Property is replaceable but lives are not and safety has to come first," Mr Trump said at a Cabinet meeting at the president retreat in Maryland, 

"Don't worry about it. Just get out of its way,"  he said."We've never seen anything like this." 

12:08AM

First sightings of a tornado in Fort Lauderdale

Skies are darkening in Fort Lauderdale reports Rob Crilly from the Florida resort amid early sightings of  a tornado offshore. 

 

11:57PM

Tornado warning issued in Florida

Rick Scott has spelled out the danger facing the state.

"The cone will cross the Keys early tomorrow and go across our state on Sunday,” he said, offering the latest update on Hurricane Irma’s path. "Tornadoes are possible in south Florida this evening and central Florida tomorrow."

11:46PM

'This is your last chance to make a good decision' 

Florida's governor Rick Scott has made another heartfelt plea to people to get out of the storm's path.

Florida governor Rick Scott Credit: Lynne Sladky /AP

"If you have been ordered to evacuate, you need to leave now.

"This is your last chance to make a good decision," he said. "Don't put yourselves or your families' lives at risk.

"Now is the time to do the right thing for your family." He continued: "Possessions can be replaced, your families and loved ones cannot be replaced."

10:56PM

Trump urges everyone in storm's path to follow instructions  

The US president who gathered his cabinet at Camp David has appealed to those in the path of Hurricane Irma to follow all instruction from government officials.

 

10:17PM

Curfew in Broward County

A curfew went into effect at 4pm across Broward county which lies just north of Miami, covering Fort Lauderdale, reports Rob Crilly. 

A man takes a photo of a boarded up business in advance of Hurricane Irma's expected arrival in Fort Lauderdale, Florida Credit: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

It comes as all the forecasts suggests Hurricane Irma's path has shifted towards the west coast, providing a let-off for the east.

Authorities are taking great pains to ensure that no-in is complacent about the dangers.  "Irma is a huge and dangerous storm system that continues to pose a threat to all of South Florida," said Barbara Sharief, mayor of Broward county, as she announced the curfew. It went into effect as bands of rain arrived with a back sky and gusts of winds reaching 40 mph.

10:10PM

Miami welcomes its first storm baby 

With impeccable timing,  Nayiri Storm entered the world hours before Irma struck.

With the mother living on Key West, it was something of a race against time.

However the baby was safely delivered at Baptist hospital in Kendall and then escorted by police to a hotel where they plan to sit out the hurricane.

9:40PM

Water rising in the Keys

 

9:20PM

Tampa-Orlando road opens the hard shoulder to traffic

Florida officials have started allowing people to drive on the shoulders of Interstate 4, the main highway that links Tampa to Orlando.

The Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Highway Patrol announced the move on Saturday. It came in the aftermath of updated forecasts that show Hurricane Irma taking aim at Tampa.

Cars queue for petrol to get out of Florida

State officials have been permitting motorists to use shoulders instead of allowing one-way flow on the state's highways. Florida has told more than 6 million to evacuate ahead of the killer storm and the mass exodus has jammed the roads.

Gov. Rick Scott has resisted calls to reverse the flow of lanes.

Georgia's governor authorised one-way traffic in order to help with evacuations in that state.

State officials cautioned that driving on the left-hand shoulder is only allowed when motorists are directed to do so by police and highway signs.

9:02PM

Guantanamo Bay military base escapes 'relatively unscathed'

Guantanamo Bay Navy base got through Hurricane Irma “relatively unscathed,” the commander has said, with only a few downed trees and power lines.

Navy Capt. Dave Culpepper told the roughly 5,500 residents through a midday broadcast on Radio Gitmo:

“So far no damage of any significance has been reported or discovered.

“The beaches are all still closed, but we're tracking nicely to get back into full operations here.”

The Guantanamo Bay military base

He had earlier decided not to send base residents to hardened shelters after tracks showed the storm going north of the base, and no destructive winds were expected.

There was no immediate word from the prison spokesman, Navy Cmdr. John Robinson III, on whether the 1,500 prison staff and their 41 war on terror detainees also escaped the storm unscathed.

 

8:41PM

Hurricane Irma - in pictures

Hurricane Irma leaves path of destruction in Caribbean as it smashes into Cuba, in pictures

 

8:33PM

Donald Trump convenes Cabinet meeting at Camp David

The White House says President Donald Trump and his Cabinet are receiving regular updates on Hurricanes Irma and Jose as they meet at the Camp David presidential retreat.

Elaine Duke, the acting homeland security secretary, is scheduled to provide a full briefing to the president and the rest of his team.

Donald and Melania Trump head to Camp David on Friday afternoon

The White House adds that Mr Trump and first lady Melania Trump are keeping everyone who has been affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in their thoughts and prayers. They're also urging the public to closely follow safety advice from local authorities.

The president and first lady invited all Cabinet members and their spouses to the Maryland retreat for the weekend.

Besides hurricane briefings, the White House says Mr Trump also planned to lead a discussion of the administration's priorities.

8:05PM

Latest footage from the Hurricane Hunters

 

8:01PM

Fort Lauderdale dispatch

From Fort Lauderdale, Rob Crilly writes:

The sky turned black as the first storm winds barrelled into southern Florida on Saturday morning.

Fort Lauderdale’s city centre was deserted except for a lone police car patrolling the streets. Some businesses had boarded up their windows. The entrances to petrol stations, long since emptied of fuel, were taped off as they were crime scenes.

At Dania Beach Marina, right in the path of any storm surge, Greg Heath said he was preparing to ride out the storm in his 40ft fibre-glass hulled boat the Last Meridian, where he has lived for the past five years.

“I’ve ridden out three hurricanes and this one will be as dangerous for people inland as it will be for people in boats,” he said.

As he lashed down loose gear, he said he planned to dive into a nearby concrete building if things got too dangerous.

“It could be complete devastation,” admitted the army veteran. “But I’ve been to war. I’ve seen worse in Iraq.

“The idea is that we can come straight back to see what state she is in.”

Surfers in Florida

Two surfers used the opportunity to ride some empty waves on Dania Beach, where a family with shovels surreptitiously filled sand bags to protect their home.

Many residents – veterans of previous storms - met the imminent arrival of Irma with a mix of resignation, fatalism and humour.

They gathered at Beach Betty’s bar to swap tips and enjoy a last beer before the storm hit.

Harriet Schulte had made her preparations, filling her bathtub with water and wrapping valuables in plastic bags, and said there was nothing to do now but wait.

“We are going to be stuck inside for three days,” she said, “so we may as well have a drink now.”

The city’s airport closed on Friday evening as airlines scrambled to get as many people to safety as they could.

Among those flying in were people who aged parents had retired to Florida and now lived along the path of the storm.

Sharon Meyers Izzo arrived on one of the last flights from New York to help her 90-year-old father and 86-year-old mother to safety. They had so far refused her pleas by telephone to move north and inland to stay with relatives.

“I just hope they agree to go there,” she said.

Deserted streets in Florida

7:45PM

Which countries are affected?

Here is a reminder from the Foreign Office, which has updated its travel advice for:

  1. Anguilla (British overseas territory)
  2. Antigua and Barbuda
  3. Bahamas
  4. British Virgin Islands (British overseas territory)
  5. Cuba
  6. Dominica
  7. Dominican Republic
  8. Guadeloupe (French overseas region)
  9. Haiti
  10. Martinique (French overseas region)
  11. Montserrat (British overseas territory)
  12. St Eustatius and Saba
  13. St Lucia
  14. St Maarten (French and Dutch overseas territory)
  15. St Barthelemy (French overseas territory)
  16. St Vincent and the Grenadines
  17. Turks and Caicos Islands (British overseas territory)
  18. USA

7:34PM

Where is Irma?

The hurricane is currently lingering over the northern Cuba coast.

Its forward speed has slowed to 9 mph and it has yet to make the expected big northward turn toward Florida yet. Its maximum sustained winds were 125 mph.

The US National Hurricane Center's latest forecast - which still can change a bit and has a margin of error of dozens of miles - projects Irma's potent eye to make three landfalls into Florida.

  1. First, there's a projected Sunday morning hit in the Lower Keys.
  2. Then later, after moving over water, Irma is expected to come ashore around Cape Coral or Fort Myers.  From there it is predicted to steam inland go over the highly populated Tampa Bay region.
  3. After Tampa, Irma is projected to briefly go back out to the Gulf of Mexico and then hit north of Homosassa Springs for a third landfall.

In the following days, Irma is forecast to head through Florida and Georgia into Tennessee.

6:44PM

Dutch PM: Looters will be punished

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, has issued a stern warning to looters who are roaming the Dutch island of St Martin.

Yet he admitted the situation has "not yet been brought under control".

"Looters must realise that police and defence personnel are ready to take strong action," he said, adding the "circumstances were complicated."

Submerged boats in the harbour at St Martin

Some 230 Dutch troops are already on the island, and another 100 will arrive by Monday.

If necessary, another 150 will be deployed to the Caribbean, Mr Rutte said.

6:24PM

Irma damages or destroys 70pc of homes in St Martin

AP - Dutch officials: Irma damaged or destroyed 70 per cent of St Martin homes, leaving island vulnerable to Jose's approach. 

St Martin, as photographed by the Dutch ministry of defence

 

6:09PM

Cuba battered by the storm

Irma’s force was felt on Cuban shores in the early hours of Saturday as it moved in from the east.

Preparations had been underway for days, with farmers hastening to speed the rice and banana harvests and move their cattle to higher ground, and houses boarded up with supplies brought in by the military.

The coastal resorts popular with package tourists were evacuated, with guests on the picture-perfect cays bused to destinations as far away as Varadero, 250 miles to the west. More than 17,600 visitors had been lodged in hotels and private homes in the Jardines del Rey area, the main tourism complex in the country.

Havana's seafront promenade, the Malecon, in Cuba

Six dolphins from the Delfinario in the resort island of Cayo Guillermo were airlifted to safety, wrapped in wet towels and taken out by helicopter to Cienfuegos.

The town of Baracoa on the far tip, from where the twinkling lights of Haiti are visible on a clear night, was spared – its residents breathing a huge sigh of relief, their town having been shredded by Hurricane Matthew in October.

Wildy Bernot Rodriguez, who owns a bed and breakfast in Baracoa, sheltered dozens of his neighbours in his home, but said they escaped without significant damage.

“It just gave us a nasty scare,” he told The Telegraph. “Some houses have been damaged, but nothing too bad, and we think we might have electricity back later today.”

Men board up a house in Caibarien, Cuba, on Friday

Irma then skirted the northern coast, where at around 4pm BST it was 10 miles off the town of Caibarien, with sustained winds of 130 miles per hour. The telephone tower in nearby Cayo Coco doubled over, bent by the force of the winds that also warped instruments at Cuba’s meteorological centre.

Patrick Oppman, CNN’s Cuba correspondent, was almost blown off the balcony as he broadcast live amid howling gales and torrential rain – the town of 38,000 people, he said, had been evacuated and was inundated, with many single-storey homes under water. 

Havana was prepared for flooding, but not expecting significant damage.

5:43PM

Governor Rick Scott, who visited rescue coordinators to thank them for their efforts earlier today, has issued this warning to FL residents

 

5:32PM

This is the scene in the US Virgin Islands, toward the tail end of the storm

 

5:27PM

Drone footage shows deserted towns ahead of landfall

 

5:21PM

Hurricane Irma is currently just off the north coast of Cuba, with winds of approx 125mph

 

5:11PM

Just in case you were wondering

 

5:07PM

Not that everyone needs one

 

5:04PM

Along with a reminder...

 

5:02PM

Twitter appeals are going out for people to temporarily rehome pets separated from their owners during the storm

 

4:55PM

Here's an exclusive from Nicola Harley, who has tracked down two British couples left behind by US rescue workers

With just one bottle of water left between them and no food, British help is not expected to arrive for a further 48 hours during which time a second hurricane was expected to strike their location

4:10PM

South Florida experiencing heavy winds and rain

Local NBC reporter Amanda Plasencia shares a video of the latest weather conditions in Homestead, in Miami-Dade county just north of the Florida Keys,.

 

3:56PM

British police head to Caribbean to help maintain law and order

British police officers will be deployed as part of the country's efforts to step up support to the Caribbean islands left devastated by Hurricane Irma, the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) has said.

Following criticism of its response to the disaster, the Government announced a £32 million aid package spearheaded by the military.

Almost 300 military personnel have left the UK as part of Operation Ruman, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

The NPCC announced that British police officers will provide support to the British Virgin Islands force as part of the relief effort.

It said two members of the UK police cadre, who support the military in times of international crisis, flew out on Friday, while a further 53 British officers from 14 police forces are due to leave from RAF Brize Norton in co-operation with the MoD.

The officers will support the local police force to maintain law and order, as well as helping to find missing people, including British nationals, the NPCC explained.

 

3:44PM

Donald Trump upsets Republicans with large emergency aid package

President Donald Trump ignored seething Republicans and made good on his deal with Democrats, signing legislation that links $15.3 billion in disaster aid to an increase in the US borrowing limit.

The law is a first installment in replenishing depleted federal emergency coffers. Trump signed it Friday as Hurricane Irma approached Florida and as Texas picks up the pieces after the devastation of Harvey. All 90 votes in opposition were cast by Republicans, some of whom hissed and booed administration officials who went to Capitol Hill to defend the package.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump help volunteers hand out meals during a visit with flood survivors of Hurricane Harvey at a relief centre in Houston Credit: Reuters

Conservative Republicans were upset that Trump cut the disaster-and-debt deal with Democratic leaders with no offsetting budget cuts.

"You can't just keep borrowing money," said GOP Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina. "We're going to be $22 trillion in debt."

The aid measure, which passed the House on a vote of 316-90, was the first injection of emergency money that could rival or exceed the $110 billion federal response after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, though future aid packages may be more difficult to pass. The legislation also finances the government through Dec. 8.

3:32PM

Beyonce returns to home state of Texas to volunteer after Hurricane Harvey

Beyonce has returned to her home town of Houston to serve food to people affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The superstar was joined by her mother Tina and her Destiny's Child bandmate Michelle Williams to work on a production line of volunteers giving meals to families devastated by the floods.

In a video shared by Tina on Instagram, Beyonce can be seen sporting plastic gloves to serve green beans into polystyrene containers.

In the caption, she said it was the third stop of the day after her daughter sponsored a luncheon for 400 people affected by the hurricane at her local church St John's, before they paid a visit to the George R Brown convention centre to meet people displaced by the flooding.

She added: "It was fun unloading the truck and organising the sizes. Please keep the donations coming! Thats Michelle Williams at the beginning of line, serving the chicken, Beyonce on Green beans and me on bread duty. Ingrid over there serving deserts."

3:02PM

'Our state has never seen anything like it'

Rick Scott, Florida's governor, is giving a press conference now. "The storm is here," he says. "Nearly 25,000 have already lost power. It continues to remain a Category force storm. A deadly storm. This state has never seen anything like it."

He made a final plea for people to leave their homes if they were still in at-risk areas. “I urge everyone to talk to your neighbors, your family and friends,” Scott said. “Every Floridian should take this seriously and be aggressive to protect your family. … Your positions can be replaced, your life cannot be replaced, your family cannot be replaced.”

2:16PM

What's real and what's not

With so many hoaxes and "fake news" circulating on social media about the hurricanes, the US's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has had to create a "rumour control page".  

For example, this one on Pets and Shelters:

There are reports emergency shelters are required to accommodate pets and service animals belonging to people who have evacuated. This is TRUE.

There are also reports hotels are required to accommodate pets for people who have evacuated. This is FALSE

1:39PM

'Damaging winds' reach south Florida

Hurricane Irma's winds have slowed slightly while it rakes Cuba, but the massive storm is expected to strengthen again as it approaches Florida.

The US National Hurricane Center in Miami said Saturday morning that Irma remained a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. Forecasters expect the storm to pick strength back up as it moves away from Cuba.

The skyline is seen as the outerbands of Hurricane Irma start to reach Florida on September 9, 2017 in Miami, Florida. Florida is in the path of the Hurricane which may come ashore at category 4. Credit: Getty

Meteorologists say damaging winds from Irma's outer bands were already arriving in South Florida. 

The Center says the eye of powerful Hurricane Irma is expected to hit southwest Florida and Tampa sometime Sunday, but the entire state will feel the storm's effects.

Hurricane Center spokesman and meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said Saturday that while Miami won't get the core of Irma it will still get life-threatening hurricane conditions.

1:34PM

Caribbean islands: before and after Hurricane Irma 

From Anguilla and Barbuda to the British and US Virgin Islands; powerful footage shows the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.

 

12:40PM

Foreign and Commonwealth Office latest update 

The FCO Twitter account just tweeted:  "Situation could deteriorate. Our ability to  assist you may be limited. Consider travel plans carefully."

Following a meeting of the Government's emergency Cobra committee, Prime Minister Theresa May said: "I heard directly from our consul general in Miami about the support that is being given to British nationals living in Florida and also British tourists in Florida.

"We are, of course, working with the US authorities to ensure that every support is available and everything can be done before Hurricane Irma reaches Florida."

 

12:29PM

Hurricane Jose still to come

Just to remind readers, it's not just Irma that is still posing a threat. Hurricane Jose is coming in behind her and is forecast to hit islands already ravaged by Irma – including Barbuda, Anguilla, St Maarten, St Martin and St Barthélemy – from later today. Hurricane Jose, currently a category four, is “almost category five”, the US National Hurricane Center has said.

Meanwhile, Katia, which had been a category one hurricane whenit made landfall in Mexico – has been downgraded to a tropical storm.

12:14PM

Ernest Hemingway museum staff defy evacuation orders

Staff at Ernest Hemingway's home in Florida have vowed to ride out Hurricane Irma, in the hope of safeguarding the property and its famous six-toed cats.  

The 19th Century Hemingway Home Museum in Key West has been boarded up and employees are hunkering down, with the storm heading straight for them.

But 10 staff members including 72-year-old manager Jacqui Sands are staying behind to look after home and its dozens of polydactyly (CORR) felines, which are all descendants of the late author's own cats. Full story here.

Staff at Ernest Hemingway's home in Florida have vowed to ride out Hurricane Irma

 

11:47AM

British family in eye of hurricane 'lucky to be alive'

A British woman has told how her cousin and family are "lucky to be alive" after they survived being in the eye wall of Hurricane Irma.

Sasha Joyce and her father, her husband Brendan and their children sheltered in her father's house as the storm tore across the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

The adults lay on top of the children, aged two and four, to protect them as the winds battered the house.

When they emerged, the other rooms had been swept away, with only the room they had sheltered in surviving.

Brendan Joyce from Glasgow his wife Sasha and their children Credit: PA

Sasha's cousin Clare Parker, who lives in London, said:

My aunt and uncle have lived in the British Virgin Islands for nearly 50 years and have survived many many hurricanes, but they realised that this was a hugely significant one and took all the precautions, they shuttered up and took shelter in a back bedroom that's the most secure.

They were all in that room with the adults lying on top of the small children. When they came out, the eye wall of the tornado had ripped the concrete house apart. They walked out of there alive, which is miraculous and we are so grateful for. They are feeling lucky to be alive.

She said more aid is vital to help the people on the islands, with food and generators among the things needed.

Irma has torn a destructive trail through several British territories, with the British Virgin Islands said to have born the brunt of the damage.

The death toll from Irma has risen to 20, with four more people believed to have died on the British Virgin Islands, it is reported.

Mr Joyce, 44, from Glasgow, has lived on the island for more than 10 years and works as a marina manager at Nanny Cay.

His wife Sasha, 34, is from the island and his children Keiran, four, and Aiden, two, were born there.

His sister Frances Joyce, from Glasgow, has spoken to him and said he is devastated by what has happened and worried for the future.

She said: "The first time he phoned, he phoned me in tears and said 'we're alive, there's nothing else'.

"He is really worried about food and shelter, and worried about how it's going to pan out.

"They have two little boys as well, so they are trying to keep them calm.

11:33AM

Frozen actor helps co-star's family stuck in Florida

Frozen star Josh Gad has described his co-star Kristen Bell as "an angel sent from above" after she helped his family who were caught up in Hurricane Irma.

Gad, who voices snowman Olaf in the animated hit, said Bell arranged for a hotel room for his parents when they were stranded in Florida as the US state braced for the storm to hit.

He shared a picture of Bell, who voices Princess Anna in the film, with his parents:

"When they were stranded in Florida, she got them a hotel room at her hotel in Orlando and saved them, my brothers, my sister-in-law and niece and nephew.

"They don't make them like this girl. Thank you Kristin. You are truly an angel sent from above. And thank you @ewablueeyes for bother her when I asked you not to!!!!"

Bell said she had been moved by the community spirit she witnessed as she prepared to hunker down in Orlando to wait out the hurricane.

She shared a photograph of herself at the supermarket stocking up on food and bottled water, captioning it: "Last run to the store for Irma hurricane holdover prep while bracing down in orlando- we didn't have the option to leave so here we are.

 

10:45AM

A little good news

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

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

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

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

10:07AM

Sir Richard Branson's son appeals for help for devastated island

Sam Branson, son of Virgin billionaire Richard Branson, says he is heading to the British Virgin Islands, where his family owns an island, and has put out an appeal asking others to come help.  "If you have boats, then please get them to the BVI," he says on a video posted on Instagram. The Branson family was caught up in the hurricane and were forced to take shelter in the cellar of their property on Necker Island. 

"Going to be harrowing to see my home and so many others beloved place so decimated but will do all I can to get aid to the people that need it most!'  the 32-year-old photographer says.

 

10:00AM

Cruise to nowhere

A Norwegian Escape cruise ship, with about 4,000 guests on board, departed from Miami on Saturday, Sept. 2, and was scheduled to return a week later, after making stops in Honduras, Belize and Mexico.

The boat made it to the Honduran island of Roatan on Monday and Belize the following day. But on Tuesday, passengers were told that their ports of call at Mexico's Cozumel island and the Costa Maya had been cancelled and that they would be returning to Florida briefly and that those who could get off should. 

Hundreds had no reason to get off, however, and knew that competing with Florida residents evacuating the state ahead of the storm for rental cars and flights was a losing proposition. So they chose a second option: a "cruise to nowhere."

The Escape headed back out to sea Thursday evening, with a new manifest of about 4,000 that included some of the original passengers as well as some fellow travelers who disembarked early from another ship called the Norwegian Sky. They, too, had decided to prolong their seagoing adventures.

The cruisers have no idea where they are headed or when they will return. A lot of it, they were told, would be up to Irma: which path she decides to take and how long she lingers.

"We said to guests that we cannot confirm when or where you'll be coming back, but obviously we'll make every effort to return the ship to port as soon as it's safe to do so," said Norwegian Cruise Line spokeswoman Vanessa Picariello.

 

9:45AM

Correspondent tweets 'holy hell' in Cuba

Patrick Oppman, CNN's Cuba correspondent, is live-tweeting his night caught in Hurricane Irma. Here are some of it:

Cat 5 Irma battering Cuba right now, watching waves roll down street I walked yesterday.

Pitch dark and the wind screaming. What a night. Water is half way up the 1st floor of house I am in. We should be fine, many others will not.

Irma giving Cuba holy hell right now; winds do not let up.

Irma is giving Cuba holy hell right now. Winds keep getting stronger.

 

9:36AM

Cuba walloped

Hurricane Irma walloped Cuba's northern coast this morning as a Category 5 storm.

Irma struck Camaguey Archipelago with 160 mph winds early on Saturday, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, after upgrading the storm late on Friday to its most powerful classification.

The scenes along Cubas north central coast were gradually coming to resemble the horrors of those of other Caribbean islands over the last week as Irma barreled in for a direct hit at Ciego de Avila province around midnight.

Choppy seas, grey skies, sheets of rain, bending palm trees, huge waves crashing over sea walls and downed power lines filled state-run televisions evening news cast.

Irma was forecast to bring dangerous storm surges of up to 10 feet to parts of Cuba's northern coast and the central and northwestern Bahamas.

 

8:21AM

Irma vs Florida's last big hurricane Andrew

Florida Governor Rick Scott has warned that Hurricane Irma, which was barreling toward Florida on Friday, could be more damaging than 1992's Hurricane Andrew which caused more than $26 billion in devastation in the state.

Following are some facts about hurricanes Irma and Andrew:

- In 1992, Hurricane Andrew blasted the southern part of Florida as it moved from east to west, spending about four hours over the state. By comparison, Scott warned this week that Irma was wider than all of Florida and could swamp it from coast to coast, during a northward push through the state.

"Remember, Hurricane Andrew is one of the worst storms in the history of Florida," Scott said at a news conference. "This is much worse and more devastating on its current path."

A water tower stands over the ruins of the coastal community of Florida City.

- Hurricane Irma could hit the Florida Keys as a Category 5, which is the highest ranking for a storm's severity, with sustained winds of 160 miles per hour (258 km per hour). Andrew made landfall as a Category 5 with maximum sustained winds of 145 miles per hour (233 km/h), according to the National Weather Service.

- Andrew damaged or destroyed 126,000 single-family houses and ripped apart 9,000 mobile homes, according to the National Weather Service. It also caused property damage in Louisiana after sweeping through the Gulf of Mexico.

- Irma is larger than Andrew and it could leave 100,000 people without shelter, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long warned at a news conference.

Boats clustered together after Hurricane Irma Friday, Sept. 8, 2017.  Credit: Caribbean Buzz

 

7:16AM

Everything we know so far

Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, made landfall on Cuba late on Friday night and latest projections indicate it should reach the Florida Keys between 5am and 7am on Sunday.

It was expected to hit Florida on Sunday morning, bringing massive damage from wind and flooding to the fourth-largest state by population. A historic evacuation, including from areas around Miami, has been made more difficult by clogged highways, gasoline shortages and the challenge of moving older people in the top retirement destination. For more information click here. 

6:02AM

How Irma looks from space

 

5:41AM

Latest images from the National Weather Service

 

5:33AM

Hurricane Katia makes landfall in eastern Mexico

Hurricane Katia made landfall in eastern Mexico late Friday, US forecasters said, just as the country grappled with its worst earthquake in a century.

The storm had weakened to a Category One storm - the lowest on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale - by the time it reached the state of Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico.

At 0300 GMT, the storm was located 185 kilometers northwest of Veracruz with maximum sustained winds of 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour, according to the US National Hurricane Center.

It was moving west-southwest at 11 kilometers per hour, and was projected to pour 10 to 15 inches of rain over northern Veracruz, eastern Hidalgo and Puebla.

 

5:24AM

Donald Trump approves another emergency declaration

The US president announced a further emergency declaration, this time for the Seminole tribe in Florida.

Around  2,000 live on six reservations in the state - located in Hollywood, Big Cypress, Brighton, Immokalee, Ft. Pierce, and Tampa.

In common with many other native American tribes, Seminoles enjoy considerable autonomy, which is why they made a separate appeal for an emergency declaration.

5:12AM

Hurricane expected to hit Florida Keys on Sunday morning

Irma is expected to make landfall on the Florida Keys, a coral cay archipelago located off the southern coast of the state, between 5am and 7am on Sunday.   A mandatory evacuation is already in place, with residents being warned that they are likely to be cut off from the American mainland once Irma strikes.

The National Weather Service has issued a stark warning to the 73,000 residents that nobody will be safe once Irma strikes. 

4:49AM

Irma makes landfall in Cuba

Hurricane Irma strengthened and made landfall in Cuba on Friday as a Category 5 storm.

Palm trees sway in the wind prior to the arrival of the Hurricane Irma in Caibarien, Cuba Credit: Alexandre Meheghini/Reuters

Irma struck Camaguey Archipelago with 160 mph (260 kph) winds late on Friday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an advisory. Category 5 is the NHC's most powerful designation.

4:26AM

British consulate in Miami helping UK citizens

With an estimated 400,000 British residents and thousands more tourists in Florida, David Prodger, the British consul general  is leading  staff helping nationals on the ground.

A team has been deployed at Miami airport to help people get back to the UK safely.

3:34AM

Holy scrolls rescued from Florida Synagogue 

Six Torahs - including two which survived the Holocaust - have been taken to safety ahead of Irma hitting Florida.

The scrolls belong to the Temple Beth Orr, a congregation of 325 families in Coral Springs, a town 20 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale.

Two of the Torahs date back to the 1780s and were once used in what was then Czechoslovakia.

They were stripped from a synagogue in Strážnice and kept in a warehouse before being taken to London and then, in the 1980s, lent to the temple in Florida.

With the Florida synagogue lacking shutters urgent measures were needed to protect the precious artefacts.

“You have to think of them as being as fragile as human life,” said Marci Bloch, the temple’s senior rabbi told the Miami Herald.

3:14AM

Man dies in Florida while preparing for Irma 

Hurricane Irma claimed its first victim in Florida even before making landfall. A 57-year old man was killed after falling from a ladder while installing storm shutters at his home in Davie.

2:57AM

Airlines warn of massive disruption 

Getting away from Florida by air will prove difficult with airlines warning that services will face massive disruption.

The cost of some fares has already soared with British Airways, for example, quoting $2,884 (£2,185) for a one-way economy trip from Miami to London on its first available flight on Tuesday.

Virgin Atlantic has economy class seats available on Monday to London from Miami for $1,656.60 (£1,255).

Both airlines are warning of significant disruption to their services.

Virgin has told passengers who have booked flights to 25 Caribbean and Florida destinations up until September 17 that they can reschedule or switch to another destination.

British Airways has made a similar offer for passengers on flights to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, and Orlando up until September 17.

BA customers can also use the value of their ticket towards an alternative destination on its network if they no longer wish to travel to or from Florida.

2:11AM

Trump speaks to French president Macron

Donald Trump has spoken to his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron to extend his condolences for the loss of life on  St. Barthélemy and St. Martin, the  White House said. 

1:10AM

Alabama issues state of emergency

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has issued a state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Irma.

The remnants of the deadly hurricane are currently projected to sweep into Alabama and Georgia by Monday morning, bringing strong winds and rain.

The governor said even though it appears Alabama will escape the brunt of the storm, the state will certainly be affected by the tropical system.

"We must be ready to respond, no matter what comes our way," Ivey said.

1:08AM

5.6 million people told to evacuate Florida

Florida has asked 5.6 million people to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma, or more than one quarter of the state's population, according to state emergency officials.

Andrew Sussman, the state's hurricane program manager, said the total includes people throughout the southern half of the state as well as those living in inland Florida in substandard housing who were also told leave due to the dangerous storm that will slam the state this weekend.

Florida is the nation's third-largest state with nearly 21 million people according to the U.S. Census.

For days Gov. Rick Scott has been urging residents to evacuate, especially those who live in coastal areas that could be flooded due to the walls of water expected from Irma's arrival.

At least 540,000 people have been told to evacuate from parts of Georgia.

Dark clouds are see over Miami's skyline prior to the arrival of Hurricane Irma to south Florida Credit: Reuters

 

1:06AM

'This is a storm that will kill you'

The National Hurricane Center is warning Floridians that even if the storm seems to moving away from the East Coast in the latest tracks, don't get complacent, AP reports.

"This is a storm that will kill you if you don't get out of the way," said National Hurricane Center meteorologist and spokesman Dennis Feltgen.

Feltgen says the storm has a really wide eye, with hurricane-force winds that cover the entire Florida peninsula and potentially deadly storm surges on both coasts.

"Everybody's going to feel this one," Feltgen said.

A tourist poses for a picture at a pier in South Beach prior to the arrival of Hurricane Irma to south Florida, in Miami, Florida Credit: Reuters

 

11:38PM

Britain's US ambassador: People’s safety is the number one concern of British and US authorities

British Ambassador Kim Darroch issued the following statement:

This is a message to all British nationals in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina: If you are in the path of Hurricane Irma, please follow the advice of state and local authorities, including any evacuation orders.  

Hurricane Irma has already brought devastation in its wake, and my thoughts are with all those affected, particularly those in Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, and Turks and Caicos.  

Irma is the most powerful storm to hit the Atlantic, and people’s safety is the number one concern of British and US authorities. We are working with state and US authorities to ensure that support is available and everything can be done before Hurricane Irma reaches Florida. Teams of staff have been at airports in the affected area providing advice and support to British nationals, and additional staff are on standby to provide assistance once the hurricane has passed.

As well as Florida, much of Georgia, coastal areas of South Carolina, and parts of North Carolina are in Irma’s projected path. Authorities in all four states have declared a state of emergency. In Florida, mandatory evacuations are widespread throughout the state (check here for details). In Georgia, the authorities have issued mandatory evacuation orders for all areas east of I-95, all of Chatham County and some areas west of I-95.

Again, if you are in the path of the hurricane, please follow the advice of local authorities, including any evacuation orders. And continue to check the Foreign Office’s travel advice.

If you evacuate, please get in touch with your family and tell them your plans. And if you are in need of help from the Foreign Office, or are concerned about others, call our emergency hotline on +44 207 008 0000.

11:03PM

Florida gun owners encouraged to 'shoot the storm' and fire their guns at Hurricane Irma

A Florida man who suggested shooting guns at Hurricane Irma out of "stress and boredom" has found that his idea has captured peoples' imaginations - with over 46,000 signing up to join in, Harriet Alexander writes.

Hurricane Irma is due to hit Florida on Saturday, and the state is currently experiencing the largest ever mass evacuation due to a hurricane in American history.

Suggestions from the "Shoot at Irma" Facebook page

But Ryon Edwards, 22, came up with a novel way of amusing himself during the storm: firing bullets into it.

He started a Facebook "event", and as of Friday evening 46,000 people say they are interested.

"A combination of stress and boredom made me start the event," he told the BBC.

"The response is a complete and total surprise to me.

"I never envisioned this event becoming some kind of crazy idea larger than myself. It has become something a little out of my control."

The "Shoot at Irma" page

Graphics suggesting how to shoot at a hurricane have sprung up online, with the suggestion that if you fire correctly the bullet might not come back and kill you.

Since Mr Edwards came up with his "masterplan", other similar Facebook pages have been created  - including one suggesting using flame throwers to scare away the storm.

"It's time we took a stand against this bully!" reads the event description. "This is our home, nobody drives us out of our own territory.

"Join me in this fight as we shoot flames at Hurricane Irma and dissipate her on the spot."

11:01PM

US military mobilises thousands of troops for Irma effort

The US military is mobilising thousands of troops and deploying several large ships to aid with evacuations and humanitarian relief, as the air force removed scores of planes from the region.

The governors of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and Florida have together activated nearly 14,000 National Guard personnel to support search-and-rescue missions and evacuations, a Pentagon statement read.

Meanwhile, the USS Kearsarge and the USS Oak Hill - an amphibious assault ship and a dock landing ship - are being sent to aid in relief efforts. 

In this U.S. Army handout, Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, prepare for Hurricane Irma, September 8, 2017 at Fort Stewart, Georgia

 

10:36PM

Disney World shuts down for Hurricane Irma

Florida's major theme parks are planning to close as Hurricane Irma approaches the state.

Officials at Walt Disney World in Orlando announced on Friday afternoon that its parks will close on Saturday and remain closed until Tuesday.

Universal Orlando announced on its website that it will close at 7 p.m. on Saturday and will remain closed until Tuesday. 

SeaWorld in Orlando and Busch Gardens, which is in Tampa, also announced plans to shut down at 5 p.m. on Saturday and remain closed until Tuesday.

Last October, the theme parks also closed down for Hurricane Matthew, which skirted Florida's southeast coast.

9:04PM

US waives restrictions to ease fuel transport

The Homeland Security Department is temporarily waiving federal restrictions on foreign ships' transportation of cargo in order to help distribute fuel to states and territories affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

In a statement, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said, "This is a precautionary measure to ensure we have enough fuel to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure." The seven-day waiver specifically affects shipments of refined products, such as gasoline, in hurricane-affected areas.

Vehicles sit lined up waiting to get fuel from a gas station ahead of Hurricane Irma in Miami Credit: Bloomberg

The Jones Act prohibits such shipments between US points aboard foreign vessels. The last such waiver was in December 2012, for petroleum products delivered after Hurricane Sandy.

9:01PM

Authorities battle looting as Caribbean aid efforts continue

Hundreds of police reinforcements and rescue teams began arriving on St Martin, an island divided between France and the Netherlands, amid reports of pillaging and shortages of drinking water, food and fuel, AFP reports.

An AFP photographer saw a crowd of around a dozen people breaking into a mini-supermarket in the Quartier-d'Orleans area of the island on Thursday.

The Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad on Friday quoted a witness as saying that "people armed with revolvers and machetes are in the streets... No-one is safe."

"The situation is serious," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said, when questioned about the looting.

People loot a store on September 7, 2017 in Quartier-d'Orleans on the French Carribean island of Saint-Martin, after the passage of Hurricane Irma Credit: AFP

"We will not abandon Sint Maarten," he vowed, referring to the island's alternative name in Dutch.

French Overseas Territories Minister Annick Girardin reported that "pillaging took place right in front of us" during a trip she made on Thursday to St Martin, where a majority of the 80,000 inhabitants have lost their homes.

Two men, one them a junior officer in the border police, were arrested overnight as they were stealing boating equipment, police said Friday.

8:41PM

Trump: US is 'prepared at the highest level' to deal with Irma

President Donald Trump says the US is "prepared at the highest level" to deal with Hurricane Irma.

Mr Trump spoke briefly to reporters on Friday before boarding Marine One to travel to Camp David for the weekend. He told reporters, "Hopefully everything will go well."

After struggling to hear the shouted questions from reporters, he says that while the storm is "a really bad one," the US is prepared for the dangerous major hurricane heading toward Florida.

US President Donald Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, tries to hear shouted questions from reporters while departing the White House for Camp David September 8, 2017 in Washington Credit: Getty

Mr Trump received a briefing on Irma earlier in the day. He is spending the weekend at the government-owned mountain retreat in Maryland where he'll monitor the storm and hold a Cabinet meeting on Saturday.

8:02PM

British response to Hurricane Irma 'found wanting', senior MPs say, as Royal Navy arrives in Caribbean

Britain's response to Hurricane Irma has been "found wanting" and many British territories in the Caribbean are in "grave need", senior MPs have warned, Ben Farmer and Steven Swinford report.

Tom Tugendhat, a Tory MP and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Stephen Twigg, a Labour MP and chairman of the International Development Committee, warned that the UK's response "requires improvement". 

In a letter to Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, and Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, they say that the arrival of HMS Ocean in a fortnight's time will be "later than any of us would have wished".

Soldiers board a Royal Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, before they are flown to help out in the areas affected by Hurricane Irma as winds of up to 175mph left death and destruction in the Atlantic Credit: PA

They say in the letter: "The devastation caused by Hurricane Irma has been greater than expected. It has left thousands without shelter, power, and the supplies needed to survive. It has also seen many responses tested, and some found wanting."

Read the full story.

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