Wednesday 21 November, 2018

The Latest: Irma sets record for 37 hours of super strength

This Sept. 6, 2017 photo provided by the Dutch Defense Ministry shows a few of the homes that remained intact in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, in St. Maarten.

This Sept. 6, 2017 photo provided by the Dutch Defense Ministry shows a few of the homes that remained intact in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, in St. Maarten.

The Latest on Hurricane Irma (all times local):

12:40 p.m.

There have been very few cyclones stronger than Hurricane Irma. And there have been some that lasted longer. But no other storm in recorded history has maintained top winds of 185 p.m. for 37 hours.

Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach says that breaks the previous record, held by Typhoon Haiyan, which had similar top winds for 24 hours before it hit the Philippines and killed 6,000 people in 2013.

Irma also has been the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record outside the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, measured by its barometric pressure of 914 millibars.

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12:30 p.m.

Gov. Rick Scott is urging all gas stations in Florida to stay open as long as possible to accommodate evacuees.

Scott even announced at his midday Thursday news conference that police escorts will get gas station employees out safely if necessary just ahead of Hurricane Irma.

He says authorities are already escorting fuel tankers through traffic and to gas stations as quickly as possible.

Scott says all of the state's ports are still operating, bringing in fuel and supplies.

He urged residents to take only as much gas as they need to make sure there is enough for everyone who needs it.

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12:15 p.m.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says four people are confirmed dead and about 50 injured on the Caribbean island of St. Martin in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

The prime minister said one person faces life-threatening injuries and two others were in serious condition.

The death toll was lower than one given earlier Thursday by France's interior minister, who said eight people had been killed on French Caribbean territories.

Philippe said four bodies have been found on St. Martin and are being identified. The island is part French, part Dutch, and Dutch authorities have not reported any casualties.

An official in Philippe's office said only four people are currently confirmed dead so far after a re-evaluation of the damage Wednesday. The official said the toll could rise as rescuers reach the scene. Philippe says large amounts of aid and equipment are en route to St. Martin and nearby St. Barts.

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11:55 a.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron says he will visit French territories damaged by Hurricane Irma, "as soon as the weather allows."

Speaking in Athens Thursday, Macron said he decided not to call off his two-day visit to Greece because prevailing weather conditions would have prevented a flight to the French territories, and an emergency government meeting in Paris was concluded before he left.

Irma, the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane on record, has affected French, British and Dutch Caribbean territories.

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11:45 a.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says the state is doing all it can to relieve fuel shortages and traffic jams to keep people evacuating ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Scott is acknowledging that empty pumps, long lines and crowded highways are "frustrating" for Floridians. But he says his administration is working with federal authorities and other states to move as much gas into Florida as they can.

This includes having the Florida Highway Patrol escort fuel trucks through any traffic.

Florida Highway Safety spokeswoman Beth Frady says troopers escorted trucks from two Florida ports to stations in Marion and Martin counties overnight, and also were escorting trucks from Georgia to stations in Perry, in north central Florida near where Interstate 75 crosses Interstate 10.

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11:35 a.m.

Britain is sending hundreds of troops and the Royal Navy flagship HMS Ocean to its overseas islands battered by Hurricane Irma.

Britain has already sent one ship, RFA Mount Bay, to Anguilla, which took the full force of the storm.

Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said Thursday he had ordered HMS Ocean to head to the Caribbean from the Mediterranean. Fallon also said the U.K. was sending "a task group of several hundred troops, marines, engineers and additional helicopters."

British authorities are being criticized for being slow to send aid to territories in the storm's path, but Fallon said "we are going to make sure the islands get the help they need."

Irma has hit the British territories Anguilla, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos.

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11:30 a.m.

Dutch airline KLM has cancelled two flights to the hurricane-shattered island of St. Maarten as authorities struggle to assess the extent of the devastation to many buildings, including the airport.

KLM said in a statement Thursday it has cancelled flights scheduled to leave the Netherlands on Friday and Sunday for St. Maarten in the aftermath of Category 5 Hurricane Irma's direct hit on the island on Wednesday.

The carrier says it is "keeping a close eye on the situation and, based on the circumstances, will decide whether operations can be resumed."

The airline says it is in contact with the Dutch government and local authorities to seek a solution for passengers stranded amid the devastation.

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11:20 a.m.

Hurricane Irma is flooding parts of the Dominican Republic as it roars by just off the northern coast of the island it shares with Haiti.

Officials said about 500 tourists in the Bavaro-Punta Cana area were moved to more secure shelters just ahead of the Category 5 storm.

Civil Defense Director Rafael Carrasco says a landslide in the Samana Peninsula affected eight houses and more than 2,500 people have been evacuated.

Punta Cana airport has reopened after being closed for several hours.

Haiti's northern coast will be next, but Irma's stronger winds have yet to reach that side of the island of Hispaniola.

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11 a.m.

A hurricane watch is now in effect for the Florida Keys and parts of South Florida.

The U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami says a watch has been issued for the Florida Keys, and on the South Florida mainland from Jupiter Inlet southward and around the peninsula to Bonita Beach.

The center noted that Hurricane Irma was still an "extremely dangerous" Category 5 hurricane, although its winds had decreased slightly from 180 mph (285 kph) to 175 mph (280 kph).

The hurricane was headed for the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday.

The Hurricane Center has predicted that Irma will remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it passes the Turks and Caicos, parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night, and skirts Cuba on Friday night into Saturday.

It will then likely head north toward Florida, where people were rushing to board up homes, fill cars with gasoline and find a route to safety.

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10:45 a.m.

As thousands of Florida residents begin evacuating and others hunker down to ride out approaching monster Hurricane Irma, SpaceX has stuck with its long-planned launch of a super-secret Air Force space shuttle.

An unmanned Falcon rocket blasted off Thursday from Florida's Kennedy Space Center. It's the fifth flight for one of these crewless mini shuttles, known as the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle.

The two Air Force space planes have already logged a combined 5 ½ years in orbit. But officials won't say what the spacecraft are doing up there. The last mission lasted almost two years and ended with a May touchdown at the runway formerly used by NASA's space shuttles.

As usual, SpaceX aims to land its leftover booster back at Cape Canaveral for eventual reuse.

This is the first time SpaceX has provided a lift for the experimental mini-shuttle.

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10 a.m.

More than 1 million people in Puerto Rico are without power — nearly 70 percent of customers of Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority. Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Thursday that crews are investigating and until they know the extent of the damage, "it will be difficult to estimate how long the power outage will last."

Rossello added that ports on the island are still closed, and it's unclear when commercial flights will resume.

Schools and government offices are scheduled to reopen on Monday.

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9 a.m.

Airports in the Bahamas are shutting down with the approach of Hurricane Irma.

The government says the international airport in Nassau will close late Thursday and it urges people who plan to leave the island chain east of Florida to check with airlines for space.

Grand Bahama's airport and the less-populated island throughout the chain will close by noon Friday.

Hurricane Irma has cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least 10 dead and thousands homeless. The storm could also make a catastrophic strike on Florida.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center predicted Irma would remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it passes just to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, nears the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night and skirts Cuba on Friday night into Saturday.

It will then likely head north toward Florida, where people were rushing to board up homes, fill cars with gasoline and find a route to safety.

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9 a.m.

President Donald Trump is urging people to "be careful, be safe" during Hurricane Irma.

In a tweet Thursday morning, Trump remarked that Irma "is raging but we have great teams of talented and brave people already in place and ready to help."

Trump asked people to "be careful, be safe!"

Hurricane Irma has cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least 10 dead and thousands homeless. The storm could also make a catastrophic strike on Florida.

Trump said Wednesday that the storm "looks like it could be something that could be not good, believe me, not good."

8:15 a.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron says France is "grief-stricken" by the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, and he's calling for concerted efforts to tackle global warming and climate change to prevent similar future natural disasters.

Speaking Thursday during a visit to Greece, Macron said the planet's situation must be stabilized and that leaders must make take steps to combat global warming "so we can avoid such natural disasters in the future."

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told Franc Info that at least eight people died and another 23 were injured when the monstrous Category 5 storm walloped the French Caribbean island territories of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy. That number is expected to rise.

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7:50 a.m.

The Florida Highway Patrol says troopers are monitoring the high volume of traffic heading north on Florida's Turnpike as people evacuate South Florida.

In a news release Thursday, the highway patrol said extra troopers, road rangers and wreckers will be on the roadways to help drivers whose vehicles have become disabled.

The agency says disabled vehicles left on the shoulders of the highways would be towed starting Thursday morning to make it easier for emergency workers who are trying to reach crash victims.

Turnpike officials are also using cameras along the road to monitor conditions.

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7:15 a.m.

The Dutch Ministry of Defense says two military aircraft will fly to the Caribbean island of Curacao on Thursday afternoon loaded with relief supplies and troops to help authorities on former Dutch colony St. Maarten recover from the devastation of Hurricane Irma.

The ministry says the troops being sent to the region "can also be used to restore public order."

Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk said earlier Thursday that he could not confirm news reports of looting in Saint Maarten, where a curfew is in force in the aftermath of Wednesday's storm.

The ministry says a KDC-10 and a C-130 Hercules are to fly to Curacao from a military air base in the southern Dutch city of Eindhoven. The Hercules will then be used to ferry supplies to St. Maarten because it should be able to land at the badly damaged Princess Juliana Airport

The planes will carry enough food and water to supply the 40,000-strong population for five days.

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6:50 a.m.

The U.K. government says Hurricane Irma has inflicted "severe and in places critical" damage to the British overseas territory of Anguilla.

Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan says the Caribbean island took the full force of the category 5 hurricane.

He told lawmakers on Thursday that the British Virgin islands have also suffered "severe damage." On another British territory, Monsterrat, the damage is "not as severe as first thought."

Duncan said the hurricane is expected to hit another British overseas territory, Turks and Caicos, later Thursday.

Britain has dispatched a Royal Navy ship carrying marines and army engineers to the affected islands.

Duncan says there are "unconfirmed reports of a number of fatalities" as a result of the hurricane.

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6:45 a.m.

The Dutch prime minister says Category 5 Hurricane Irma was a storm of "epic proportions" when it slammed into the former Dutch colony of Saint Maarten in the Caribbean and is appealing to Dutch citizens to donate to a relief fund set up by the Red Cross.

Speaking Thursday after a meeting of the government's crisis committee, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said there are no reports yet of casualties on the Dutch side of the island. Rutte says the damage is huge, particularly on Saint Maarten, with "widescale destruction of infrastructure, houses and businesses."

He says, "there is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Houses are under water, cars are floating through the streets, inhabitants are sitting in the dark, in ruined houses and are cut off from the outside world."

The Dutch military is readying two aircraft to fly to the region to distribute vital aid to the shattered territory, which is home to some 40,000 people. However the airport on the Dutch side of the island is badly damaged.

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5:35 a.m.

Authorities say at least one person has died in the northeast Caribbean island of Anguilla, raising the death toll of Hurricane Irma to at least 10 as the Category 5 storm roars through the region.

The Caribbean Disaster Management Agency reported the death early Thursday and said 90 percent of roads in Anguilla are impassible.

France's Interior Minister, Gerard Collomb, told Franc Info that at least eight people have died and another 23 were injured in the French Caribbean island territories of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy. That number is expected to rise.

In Barbuda, a 2-year-old child was killed as a family tried to escape a damaged home during the storm.

Authorities are struggling to get aid to small Caribbean islands devastated by the storm's record 185 mph (298 kph) winds.

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5:15 a.m.

The eye of Hurricane Irma is moving west-northwest off the Dominican Republic's northern coast as the Category 5 storm continues is destructive path over the Caribbean.

French authorities announced Thursday that at least eight people have died on Saint-Martin.

As of 5 a.m. EDT Thursday, the hurricane was centered about 95 miles (155 kilometers) north of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and is moving at about 17 mph (28 kph) with maximum sustained winds near 180 mph (285 kph).

Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia has prompted a hurricane warning in Mexico in the state of Veracruz. That hurricane is centered about 195 miles (310 kilometers) northeast of Veracruz, Mexico. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the storm is stationary with little overall motion expected though late Thursday.

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4:40 a.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron will go to the islands hit by Hurricane Irma as soon as weather conditions permit, after authorities announced at least eight people died on Saint-Martin.

Macron's office said Thursday that the president will travel to France's Caribbean territories "as soon as possible" once immediate rescue operations are complete.

The president of the territorial council, Daniel Gibbs, said on Radio Caraibes International that Saint-Martin is "95 percent destroyed."

The island is part French, part Dutch. The Dutch government is holding a crisis meeting about the damage to its part, St. Maarten.

Damages and casualties were also reported on the nearby French island of Saint-Barthelemy.

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4:30 a.m.

Aerial images released by the Dutch Defense Ministry show scenes of utter devastation on the island of St. Maarten in the aftermath of a direct hit by Category 5 Hurricane Irma.

Video, shot from a navy helicopter sent to assess damage Wednesday evening, shows seafront hotels — a mainstay of the Caribbean island's economy — with their roofs badly damaged, palm trees stripped of fronds and poolside terraces covered in sand.

The island's airport also was hit hard, with what appeared to be sand washed up to parts of the main terminal and the building's roof extensively damaged. No aircraft were visible on the tarmac. The airport is famous around the world because its runway ends very close to a beach, where tourists can stand and watch landing aircraft skim low overhead.

Streets were largely deserted and littered with debris. At a port area, shipping containers were strewn like children's building blocks. Elsewhere, yachts were shown jumbled together in a small harbor, some overturned or dumped, upside down, onto the shore.

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3:15 a.m.

The Dutch government is holding a crisis meeting to discuss its response to the damage inflicted on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, a former Dutch colony, by Hurricane Irma.

Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk said early Thursday that ministers would huddle in The Hague to coordinate the aid operation after initial aerial images taken from a navy helicopter showed the extent of damage to the island.

Plasterk told Dutch NOS radio that there is "an extreme amount of damage, particularly on St. Maarten." He said the government had no confirmed reports yet of casualties, but stressed that communications were proving difficult.

Video images tweeted by the Dutch Defense Ministry and taken from a helicopter flying over the island showed damage to the airport and the dock and seafront areas. Elsewhere, roofs had been blown off by the hurricane that struck Wednesday.

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3 a.m.

France's Interior minister says Hurricane Irma has killed at least eight people and left 23 injured on French Caribbean island territories.

Speaking on French radio France Info, Gerard Collomb said the death toll in Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy could be higher because rescue teams have yet to finish their inspection of the islands.

Collomb said Thursday: "The reconnaissance will really start at daybreak."

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2:40 a.m.

Hurricane Irma is moving to the northeast of the Dominican Republic after blacking out much of Puerto Rico and raking the U.S. territory with wind and rain.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the Category 5 storm's maximum sustained winds are near 180 mph (290 kph). The hurricane center says some fluctuations in strength are likely during the next day or two but Irma is expected to remain a powerful Category 4 or 5 hurricane.

As of 2 a.m. EDT Thursday, the storm was about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and is moving west-northwest near 16 mph (26 kph).

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12:30 a.m.

Hurricane Irma has blacked out much of Puerto Rico as the dangerous Category 5 storm raked the U.S. territory with heavy wind and rain while staying just out to sea

Authorities are also struggling to get aid to small Caribbean islands devastated by the storm's record 185 mph (298 kph) winds earlier Wednesday.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne says nearly every building on Barbuda was damaged when the hurricane's core crossed almost directly over the island early Wednesday and about 60 percent of the island's roughly 1,400 people are homeless.

He says a 2-year-old child was killed as a family tried to escape a damaged home during the storm.