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Friday December 15th, 2017 9:05AM

The Latest: Hurricane Irma nears populated Tampa region

By 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.

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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.

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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.

The massive storm made landfall in the Florida Keys, and its center was forecast to move up the state's Gulf Coast. But the effects are being felt far from the center because of Irma's size.

___

9:25 a.m.

Hurricane Irma has made landfall in the Florida Keys.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the center of the massive hurricane made landfall on Cudjoe Key in the lower Florida Keys at 9:10 a.m.

Its top sustained winds are 130 mph (215 kph).

Forecasters say a gust of 106 mph (171 kph) was reported on Big Pine Key.

___

9:00 a.m.

The Florida Highway Patrol says two people have died in a head-on crash in a county where Hurricane Irma's wind and rain have started to blow in.

Agency spokesman Greg Bueno said the crash happened Sunday morning in Hardee County, which is southeast of Tampa.

It wasn't immediately clear what role the weather may have played. He says troopers are investigating the crash and no further details were immediately available.

Bueno said in an email that the area is starting to feel the effects of Hurricane Irma.

The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for the county, saying a severe thunderstorm was in the area.

___

8:55 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center forecasts that the core of Hurricane Irma will likely chug directly for the highly populated Tampa-St. Petersburg region after it gets through raking the Keys, but the storm is so massive all of Florida will be feeling the Category 4 hurricane's fury.

The center of the storm was just off Key West Sunday morning.

The latest forecast of Irma's eye — which still can change — keeps the nearly 400-mile wide (640-kilometer) storm in the water, barely off the coast of southwestern Florida's Fort Myers and Naples.

But that also puts that region in the strongest northeast quadrant of the storm, where storm surge, wind, rain and tornado threats are highest.

And a few miles wiggle could bring Irma's eye — which has measured 30 miles wide (48 kilometers) — inland.

The storm is moving slowly, about 8 mph (13 kilometers per hour) so its eye is likely to hit the Tampa region around 2 a.m. Monday, but damaging winds, storm, surge, rain and tornadoes will reach the area long before then.

___

8:45 a.m.

Doctors were forced to talk a Florida woman through delivering her baby at home while Hurricane Irma's outer bands lashed Miami.

The City of Miami said on its Twitter account early Sunday that firefighters couldn't respond in time to the woman in the Little Haiti neighborhood. So doctors from Jackson Health System talked her through the birth of the baby girl at home.

Authorities say firefighters were able to make it to the woman Sunday morning and take her to the hospital after the girl was born.

Miami-Dade fire spokeswoman Erika Benitez said the fire department is responding to calls on a case-by-case basis as strong winds and rain lash the area. They are encouraging residents to stay inside because of downed power lines and debris.

___

8:20 a.m.

Florida authorities have issued another stern warning about Hurricane Irma: Shooting bullets into the storm won't help keep you safe.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office tweeted late Saturday: "DO NOT shoot weapons @ (hashtag) Irma. You won't make it turn around (and) it will have very dangerous side effects."

The sheriff's office, which is in the Tampa Bay-area, was responding to a Facebook event page created two Florida men inviting people to shoot at Irma.

The page reads: "YO SO THIS GOOFY ... LETS SHOW IRMA THAT WE SHOOT FIRST ..."

The invitation presumably was a joke, but 80,000 people indicated they were "going" or "interested" in the event.

In a tweet early Sunday, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office asked the thousands of people who had shared the page to also share their request for volunteers needed at hurricane shelters.

___

8 a.m.

Forecasters say Hurricane Irma's center is poised to blow across the Florida Keys.

The northern eyewall of the storm reached the island chain early Sunday.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a public advisory that the center of the storm remained offshore but was going to make landfall soon. The storm was centered about 20 miles east (30 km) of Key West, and it was moving north-northwest at 8 mph (13 kph)

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215) kph. The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of 90 mph (145 kph) near its Key West office.

After hitting the Florida Keys, Irma was forecast to move up the state's Gulf Coast later Sunday.

___

7:55 a.m.

The National Weather Service in Miami has issued tornado warnings for a wide swath of Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward counties in South Florida.

Officials say the band of rain and tornado producing cells is moving quickly.

There have been no reports of tornadoes touching down.

___

7:50 a.m.

Authorities are urging people who chose to ride out Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys to remain indoors until the storm passes.

The storm's eyewall reached the chain of islands Sunday morning. The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of 90 mph (145 kph) near its Key West office.

In a Facebook post early Sunday, Key West Police urged people who stayed for the hurricane to remain where they took shelter until the storm had passed completely. They also urged people not to go outside when the eye of the storm is over there area, a time period when conditions can seem deceptively calm.

John Huston, who is riding out the storm from his home in Key Largo in the upper Keys, says the wind gusts are strong in his area.

"Water level is higher today," he said via text message Sunday morning. "Incredible wind that won't stop."

___

7:05 a.m.

Hurricane Irma's eyewall has reached the Florida Keys.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says the storm's northern eyewall reached the lower Florida Keys Sunday morning. The eyewall is a band of clouds surrounding the center of the storm that has intense winds and strong rain.

The hurricane center says Key West International Airport has measured sustained winds of 50 mph (80 kph).

___

7:00 a.m.

Hundreds of thousands of people are without power in Florida as Hurricane Irma's winds and rain lash the state.

Irma's center was over water off Key West early Sunday, but places including Miami were being hit with strong winds and rain.

Florida Power & Light Company said that about 430,000 customers were without power Sunday morning. Miami-Dade County had the most outages with about 250,000. Broward County had 130,000 outages. Palm Beach County had more than 40,000 outages.

The utility said that it has mobilized crews and is working to restore power as it can.

___

6:30 a.m.

With Hurricane Irma closing in on Florida, the storm's winds are already lashing parts of the state.

In Key West, Carol Walterson Stroud and her family are huddled in a third floor apartment at a senior center.

Stroud said early Sunday that the wind was blowing hard, but her family was OK. In a text message to a reporter, she said: "We are good so far."

As of 6 a.m. EDT, forecasters say the Category 4 storm is centered about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the island.

The 60-year-old is with her husband and granddaughter and their dog. Stroud says she plans to step outside once the "eye" of the hurricane passes over later Sunday.

Meanwhile, to the north, access to all of Pinellas County's barrier islands, including the popular spring break destination of Clearwater Beach, has been shut off.

___

6:10 a.m.

The eye of Hurricane Irma is very close to the lower Florida Keys.

As of 6 a.m. EDT, the U.S. National Hurricane Center says the Category 4 storm is centered about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south-southeast of Key West, Florida, and is moving northwest at 8 mph (13 kph).

Irma's maximum sustained winds are near 130 mph (215 kph). The hurricane center says weakening is forecast but Irma is expected to remain a powerful hurricane as it moves through the Florida Keys and near Florida's west coast.

___

6:10 a.m.

France and the Netherlands say their islands in the Caribbean were spared major damage from Hurricane Jose, which passed farther away from the islands than expected.

The Sunday announcements — coming from France's national weather service and the Dutch navy — were good news for islands that had already been devastated by Hurricane Irma last week.

Meteo-France said Jose's center passed overnight about 75 miles (125 kilometers) from St. Martin and 80 miles (135 kilometers) from St. Barts, though it still produced gales of up to 48 mph (80 kph) around the islands.

In a tweet Sunday, the Netherlands' navy says the situation after Jose passed north of the islands overnight is "better than expected." Scores of marines and troops will resume their efforts to restore vital infrastructure and distribute food and water on St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius.

In a separate tweet, the navy said the security situation on St. Maarten, which saw widespread looting and robberies after Hurricane Irma, has improved thanks to patrols by marines and police flown to the island to help overwhelmed local law enforcement.

___

5:10 a.m.

Hurricane Irma has sped up slightly and its eye is about to move across the lower Florida Keys early Sunday.

The hurricane is centered about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south-southeast of Key West, Florida, and is moving north-northwest near 8 mph (13 kph).

Irma is a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 130 mph (215 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center says weakening is forecast but Irma is expected to remain a powerful hurricane as it moves through the Florida Keys and near Florida's west coast.

Tens of thousands in Florida are huddled in shelters as the hurricane threatens to make a catastrophic hit on the state.

___

5:10 a.m.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander is flying to the Caribbean to meet survivors of Hurricane Irma who were evacuated there from the hard-hit island of St. Maarten.

Meanwhile, Dutch tourists stranded for days on St. Maarten are hoping to finally get flights home.

Willem-Alexander was to fly Sunday to the island of Curacao to visit a hospital where more than 60 patients from St. Maarten who require kidney dialysis were flown for treatment over the last two days by the Dutch military.

If the weather is good enough, the monarch will later fly onward to St. Maarten and two other smaller islands hit by Irma on Wednesday to offer his support to the thousands of residents and Dutch marines helping to clear the island, where some 70 percent of homes were badly damaged or destroyed by the Category 5 storm.

The Dutch navy tweeted Sunday that it plans to evacuate tourists from the island's shattered resorts.

___

4:10 a.m.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Irma is bearing down on the lower Florida Keys early Sunday.

A National Ocean Service station on a coral reef near the Keys has recorded sustained winds of 66 mph (105 kph) with a gust up to 85 mph (137 kph). Key West International Airport has measured sustained winds of 43 mph (69 kph) with a gust up to 73 mph (117 kph).

Irma is centered about 55 miles (90 kilometers) south-southeast of Key West, Florida, and is moving northwest near 6 mph (9 kph).

___

3:15 a.m.

A re-strengthened Hurricane Irma is continuing to move toward the western Florida Keys early Sunday.

The hurricane has regained Category 4 status with maximum sustained winds near 130 mph (210 kph) and is centered about 65 miles (105 kilometers) southeast of Key West, Florida.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the Miami Executive Airport has measured a sustained wind speed of 46 mph (74 kph) with a gust of up to 61 mph (98 kph).

Tens of thousands in Florida are huddled in shelters as the hurricane threatens to make a catastrophic hit on the state.

___

2:10 a.m.

Hurricane Irma has regained Category 4 strength as it moves toward Florida, where it's feared to make a devastating hit.

Irma's maximum sustained winds increased early Sunday to near 130 mph (210 kph) and it's expected to gain a little more strength as it moves through the Straits of Florida and remain a powerful hurricane as it approaches Florida.

Irma is centered about 70 miles (115 kilometers) south-southeast of Key West, Florida, and is moving northwest near 6 mph (9 kph).

___

1:40 a.m.

Hurricane Irma is closing in on the Florida Keys with top winds of 120 mph (190 kph) early Sunday as forecasters monitored a crucial shift in its trajectory that could keep its ferocious eye off the southwest Florida coast and over warm gulf water.

Tens of thousands of people huddling in shelters watched for updates as the storm swung to the west, now potentially sparing Tampa as well Miami the catastrophic head-on blow forecasters had been warning about.

But those few miles meant St. Petersburg could get a direct hit, rather than its more populous twin across Tampa Bay.

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, as the eye approached Key West.

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AP Interview: Actress Priyanka Chopra says after meeting with Syrian refugees that the world must do more to help them, especially children displaced by war
11:11PM ( 35 minutes ago )