Hurricane Irma has weakened to Category 3; expected to regain strength approaching Florida

U.S.
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(AP)

11:25 a.m. (EDT)

Hurricane Irma has weakened to a Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds, but it’s expected to regain its strength before slamming into Florida.

The storm has been pounding Cuba, and forecasters say it will get stronger once it moves away.

Irma is expected to hit the Florida Keys Sunday morning and then Tampa. The National Hurricane Center warned in a Saturday advisory that the storm will bring “life-threatening wind” to much of the state regardless of its exact path.PHOTOS: Hurricane Irma

Forecasters also predict storm surges of up to 15 feet in southwestern Florida and rainfall up to 25 inches in the Keys.

The hurricane warning for Florida’s west coast has been extended to the Aucilla River, just south of Tallahassee, and the watch pushed west to Indian Pass on Florida’s Panhandle.

The hurricane warning for Florida’s east coast has been pushed further north to Fernandina Beach, with the hurricane watch further north to Edisto Beach.MORE: Complete coverage of Hurricane Irma

11:15 a.m. (EDT)

U.S. officials are working to secure some of the nation’s most contaminated toxic waste sites as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida says the EPA personnel he’s spoken with seem “generally positive” about the prospects for toxic sites remaining secure in the coming hurricane. But, as he put it, “they can’t guarantee it 100 percent.”

Rubio spoke with AP from the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center. Florida has Superfund sites on both the east and west coasts.

Rubio says EPA officials have been assessing the sites for 72 hours. He says they think the risks to the sites are “real” but not as severe as Houston faced from Harvey, because of the Texas oil industry.

11 a.m. (EDT)

Florida emergency management officials say at least 51,000 residents have hunkered down in approximately 300 shelters ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Most of those staying in shelters are in southeast Florida, which initially looked to be the main target of the storm before the forecast shifted west. More than 15,000 people are in shelters in Palm Beach County while neighboring Broward County has nearly 13,000 people.

The threat of Irma has prompted state and local officials to ask 5.6 million residents to flee ahead of the storm. It’s expected to come ashore Sunday and take aim at the Tampa Bay area.

Officials in the Florida Keys are evacuating some 460 inmates and 125 corrections officers from a jail on Stock Island to a jail in Palm Beach County.

Spokeswoman Becky Herrin said in a news release that Sheriff Rick Ramsey made the decision Friday night because of the changing path of Hurricane Irma. The jail on Stock Island is near Key West on the lower end on the island chain.

10:50 a.m. (EDT)

France has dispatched one of its most impressive military transport planes to assist recovery efforts near the hurricane-battered French overseas islands of St. Martin and St. Bart.

In a statement Saturday, the French army said the four-engine airlifter A400M had taken off from the mainland city of Orleans to the Caribbean with a Puma helicopter, a dozen military and technical personnel and humanitarian cargo.

The fast-approaching Hurricane Jose – which is going to pass just above St. Martin – has meant that all access to and from St. Martin and St. Bart has been halted.

The A400M is expected to arrive at Fort-de-France, the capital of France’s Caribbean overseas department of Martinique, and will remain in the region at least a week to help with hurricane relief work.

10:40 a.m. (EDT)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is heeding his own advice about Hurricane Irma by evacuating his beachside mansion along the Gulf Coast.

The governor’s office confirmed that Scott’s family, including First Lady Ann Scott, left Naples in southwestern Florida ahead of the dangerous storm. Scott’s daughter, her husband and their grandchildren have also evacuated.

Scott’s mansion is worth approximately $15 million, according to his latest financial disclosure.

As governor, Scott usually splits his time between his mansion and the governor’s mansion located in the state capital, Tallahassee. The multi-millionaire businessman was first elected in 2010.

8:45 a.m. (EDT)

The National Hurricane 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.

The Category 4 storm pounded Cuba early Saturday with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. It was expected to strengthen before hitting Florida.

8 a.m. (EDT)

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 U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Saturday morning that Irma remained a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 kph). Forecasters expect the storm to pick strength back up as it moves away from Cuba.

The storm’s center was about 10 miles northwest of Caibarien, Cuba. That’s also about 225 miles south of Miami.

Meteorologists say damaging winds from Irma’s outer bands were already arriving in South Florida. The storm was expected to reach the Florida Keys on Sunday morning before moving up the state’s Gulf Coast.

7:45 a.m. (EDT)

Meteorologists say damaging winds are blowing into South Florida as Hurricane Irma approaches.

The National Weather Service said Saturday morning that damaging winds were moving into areas including Key Biscayne, Coral Gables and South Miami. Gusts of up to 56 mph (90 kph) were reported on Virginia Key off Miami as the storm’s outer bands arrived.

The center of the storm was about 245 miles (395 kilometers) southeast of Miami early Saturday as it raked the northern coast of Cuba.

The latest forecast track predicts the center of the storm will move along Florida’s Gulf Coast through Monday.

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