Maria 'potentially most catastrophic hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in a century'

As residents of Puerto Rico brace for Hurricane Maria — which slammed into the Caribbean as a Category 5 storm Monday night — Puerto Rico’s governor is calling the storm “the biggest and potentially most catastrophic hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in a century.”

Maria, which has left at least one dead in the Caribbean, is expected to move over the northeastern Caribbean Sea today and is forecast to “remain an extremely dangerous category 4 or 5 hurricane” as it approaches the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico tonight and Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Maria could bring life-threatening flooding and mudslides, as well as a 6- to 9-foot storm surge, to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Most models are forecasting Maria will stay away from Florida and the U.S. mainland.

The storm — which is expected to bring life-threatening winds, storm surge and flooding — will be violent, the governor of Puerto Rico warned today. The governor advised residents to be prepared to hunker down for 72 to 90 hours.

It’s been just two weeks since Hurricane Irma, which killed at least 39 people in the Caribbean and demolished homes, tore through Puerto Rico, and now Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello is saying Maria is “potentially most catastrophic hurricane to hit” the U.S. territory in a century.

A Category 4 storm hasn’t hit Puerto Rico directly since 1932.

Rossello said up to 25 inches of rain could fall in some areas and he urged anyone in a flood-prone, mudslide-prone or coastal area to leave. Over 300 people are already at shelters as of this afternoon, the governor said.

Rossello said a lot of infrastructure will likely be lost and he said communications will be affected.

The governor in an address this afternoon said, “We have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history.”

When Irma tore through the Caribbean, Rossello said, “the people of Puerto Rico not only demonstrated our resilience but we banded together to show our kindness and hospitality to thousands of our fellow Americans in the U.S. Virgin Islands, BVI, St. Marteen and beyond.”

“Now we’re looking down the barrel of Maria, a historic Category 5 hurricane. Although it looks like a direct hit with major damage to Puerto Rico is inevitable, I ask for America’s prayers,” he said. “No matter what happens here in the next 36 hours, Puerto Rico will survive, we will rebuild, we will recover and with your support, we will come out stronger than ever.”

While Puerto Rico residents appeared to go about their days with little urgency Monday, many seem to be on edge today as the storm nears.

In the capital of San Juan, most businesses are closed or closing early today and the San Juan Airport is closing this evening.

As Maria hit the Caribbean island of Dominica Monday night, Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit published a series of dire Facebook posts, calling the 160 mph winds “merciless.”

“We do not know what is happening outside. We not dare look out … we pray for its end!” Skerrit wrote.

Maria was the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall on Dominica; before Monday the strongest hurricane to hit Dominica was Hurricane David, a Category 4 in 1979.

Guadeloupe and Martinique, which both neighbor Dominica in the Caribbean, were also battered with Maria’s powerful winds and rain Monday night.

Officials said in Guadeloupe one person died from a falling tree.

Officials said 80,000 are without power on Guadeloupe and some flooding was reported, but few homes are damaged.

Dominica was “shut down” as the storm approached, said Anil Etienne, a spokesman for Dominica’s Office of Disaster Management. Etienne told ABC News officials were worried about flooding in low-lying areas and opened about 146 shelters.

The prime minister of Dominica wrote on Facebook late Monday night, “My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding,” before announcing, “I have been rescued.”

Skerrit gave an update this morning, writing on Facebook, “Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.”

“The winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with,” he continued. “The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside.”

After hitting Puerto Rico, the storm will begin to turn north and is expected to come near the Dominican Republic Wednesday afternoon, potentially with winds over 100 mph.

Maria is forecast to then continue north, avoiding the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas and Florida, before ending up out to sea.

ABC News’ Rob Marciano, Melissa Griffin, Ben Gittleson and Paul Pradier contributed to this report.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ABC News: International

7.1 magnitude quake kills 44 as buildings collapse in Mexico

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake rocked central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 44 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust and thousands fled into the streets in panic.

The quake came less than two weeks after another quake left 90 dead in the country’s south, and it occurred as Mexicans commemorated the anniversary of a 1985 quake that killed thousands.

Mexican media broadcast images of multiple downed buildings in densely populated parts of Mexico City and nearby Cuernavaca. A column of smoke rose from a structure in one central neighborhood in the capital.

Morelos Gov. Graco Ramirez reported on Twitter that at least 42 people had died in his state south of Mexico City.

Gov. Alfredo del Mazo told the Televisa news network that two people died in the State of Mexico, which also borders the capital: a quarry worker who was killed when the quake unleashed a rockslide and another person who was hit by a falling lamppost.

Rescue workers rushed to the site of damaged or collapsed buildings in the capital, and reporters saw onlookers cheer as a woman was pulled from the rubble.

Rescuers immediately called for silence so that they could listen for others who might be trapped.

Gala Dluzhynska said she was taking a class with 11 other women on the second floor of a building on the trendy Alvaro Obregon street when the quake struck and window and ceiling panels fell as the building began to tear apart.

She said she fell in the stairs and people began to walk over her, before someone finally pulled her up.

“There were no stairs anymore. There were rocks,” she said.

They reached the bottom only to find it barred. A security final came and unlocked it.

The quake caused buildings to sway sickeningly in Mexico City and sent people throughout the city fleeing from homes and offices, and many people remained in the streets for hours, fearful of returning to the structures.

Alarms blared and traffic stopped around the Angel of Independence monument on the iconic Reforma Avenue.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.1 hit at 1:14 p.m. (2:15 p.m. EDT) and it was centered near the Puebla state town of Raboso, about 76 miles (123 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City.

Puebla Gov. Tony Gali tweeted that there had been damaged buildings in the city of Cholula including collapsed church steeples.

Earlier in the day workplaces across the city held readiness drills on the anniversary of the 1985 quake, a magnitude 8.0 shake, which killed thousands of people and devastated large parts of Mexico City.

Market stall vendor Edith Lopez, 25, said she was in a taxi a few blocks away when the quake struck. She said she saw glass bursting out of the windows of some buildings. She was anxiously trying to locate her children, whom she had left in the care of her disabled mother.

Local media broadcast video of whitecap waves churning the city’s normally placid canals of Xochimilco as boats bobbed up and down.

Mexico City’s international airport suspended operations and was checking facilities for any damage.

Much of Mexico City is built on former lakebed, and the soil can amplify the effects of earthquakes centered hundreds of miles away.

The new quake appears to be unrelated to the magnitude 8.1 temblor that hit Sept. 7 off Mexico’s southern coast and which also was felt strongly in the capital.

U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle noted that the epicenters of the two quakes are 400 miles (650 kilometers) apart and most aftershocks are within 100 kilometers.

There have been 19 earthquakes of magnitude 6.5 or larger within 250 kilometers of Tuesday’s quake in the past century, Earle said.

Earth usually has about 15 to 20 earthquakes this size or larger each year, Earle said.

Initial calculations show that more than 30 million people would have felt moderate shaking from Tuesday’s quake. The US Geological Survey predicts “significant casualty and damage are likely and the disaster is potentially widespread.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ABC News: International

The Latest: Indonesia sends 34 tons of aid for Rohingya

The Latest on violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and the flood of ethnic Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh (all times local):

9:30 a.m.

Four Hercules planes carrying 34 tons of aid for Rohinyga refugees have departed for Bangladesh from an air force base in the Indonesian capital.

Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has called for an immediate end to violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and promised significant humanitarian aid. He and other officials including his foreign minister and military chief inspected the relief operation before its departure from Halim Air Base.

Presidential spokesman Johan Budi says the planes are carrying rice, instant meals, family kits, tents, water tanks and blankets.

He says it’s the first batch of aid from Indonesia following discussions with Myanmar and Bangladesh.

At least 370,000 Rohingya have flooded into Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when Myanmar’s military responded to an insurgent attack with what it called “clearance operations” to root out the rebels. Many of the fleeing Rohingya have said Myanmar soldiers shot indiscriminately, burned their homes and warned them to leave or die. Others said they were attacked by Buddhist mobs.

———

5:30 a.m.

The world’s largest Muslim body is urging Myanmar to allow in U.N. monitors so they can investigate what it alleges is systematic brutality against the Rohingya ethnic minority.

At least 370,000 Rohingya have flooded into Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when Myanmar’s military responded to an insurgent attack with what it called “clearance operations” to root out the rebels. Many of the fleeing Rohingya have said Myanmar soldiers shot indiscriminately, burned their homes and warned them to leave or die. Others said they were attacked by Buddhist mobs.

The U.N. Human Rights Council approved an investigative mission earlier this year, but Myanmar in June refused to allow it to enter. An envoy’s visit in July was met with protests.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation issued its statement Tuesday after an emergency meeting on the sidelines of a technology conference in Astana, Kazakhstan.

———

1:15 a.m.

Two human rights groups are accusing the U.N. Security Council of ignoring the “ethnic cleansing” taking place on a large scale against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar who are fleeing across the border to Bangladesh.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International representatives said at a joint press conference at U.N. headquarters Tuesday that the U.N.’s most powerful body has failed to speak out and immediately demand an end to the violence.

It comes ahead of closed council discussions Wednesday on the crisis.

The U.N. said Tuesday that 370,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25 and thousands are arriving every day.

Louis Charbonneau, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch, said, “This is an international peace and security crisis” and there is no excuse for the Security Council “sitting on its hands.”

———

1:05 a.m.

The United Nations says two flights have landed in Bangladesh with supplies to help 25,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said one flight chartered by the U.N. refugee agency carried shelter materials, sleeping mats and other emergency supplies for a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar district in the country’s southeast. He said a second flight, donated by the United Arab Emirates, carried nearly 2,000 family tents.

Further flights are planned to enable a total of 120,000 refugees to be reached.

Dujarric says the U.N. World Food Program is providing food to some 70,000 people as they arrive in Cox’s Bazar and to nearly 60,000 people living in camps and makeshift settlements.

In Myanmar, Dujarric said most aid activities in northern Rakhine state remain either suspended or severely interrupted, although the government is delivering some aid through the Red Cross.

———

5 p.m.

Myanmar’s military says Rohingya Muslim villagers helped them arrest six suspected Rohingya insurgents armed with swords and slingshots in the country’s conflict-torn northern Rakhine state.

The government says the six are suspected of being members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which attacked police posts Aug. 25. Violence since then has sent hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing, burned 60 villages and left hundreds dead. The government and Rohingya blame each other.

The military commander in chief’s office said Tuesday on its Facebook page that six alleged insurgents were detained Monday by fellow Rohingya as they entered Ka Nyin Tan village in Maungdaw township.

Authorities in Buddhist-majority Myanmar refer to Rohingya as Bengalis, contending that they immigrated illegally from nearby Bangladesh, though many Rohingya families have lived in Myanmar for generations.

4:15 p.m.

The U.N. refugee agency says the number of Rohingya refugees that have fled recent violence in Myanmar has spiked to about 370,000.

That new estimate given Tuesday in a statement by UNHCR is more than 50,000 higher than Monday’s estimate — a result of aid agencies reaching “more villages, hamlet and pockets where refugees have gathered.”

Thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims have been arriving daily by foot across the swampy border as well as by rickety wooden boats traveling on wild seas since violence erupted on Aug. 25 in Myanmar.

The influx has left Bangladesh refugee camps reeling. The UNHCR said it was flying in two shipments of aid materials including jerry cans, blankets, sleeping mats and shelter materials.

It said the goods would help some 25,000 refugees at jam-packed refugee camps in Bangladesh’s border district of Cox’s Bazar. More airlifts were planned in coming days.

———

11:45 a.m.

Iran’s Supreme Leader has strongly condemned the killing of Muslims in Myanmar by the government.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the killing of Rohingya Muslims is a political disaster for Myanmar because it is being carried out by a government led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he called a “brutal woman.”

He urged Muslim countries to take practical steps to stop the violence and said they should “increase political, economic and commercial pressures on the government of Myanmar.”

At least 313,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts, prompting Myanmar’s military to retaliate with what it called “clearance operations” to root out the rebels.

Myanmar authorities said more than a week ago that some 400 Rohingya, mostly insurgents, had died in clashes with troops, but it has offered no update. It has also blamed Rohingya for burning their own homes even though new fires were occurring after Rohingya fled.

———

11:30 a.m.

The Bangladeshi prime minister is visiting a struggling refugee camp that has absorbed some of the hundreds of thousands who fled recent violence in Myanmar.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told a rally during Tuesday’s visit to the Kutupalong refugee camp, near the border town of Ukhiya, that she wished for peace for the Rohingya and would not “tolerate injustice” against them.

She pledged that Bangladesh would do its best to help the Rohingya, but said Myanmar should take steps soon to “take their nationals back.”

On Monday night, she lambasted Myanmar for “atrocities” that she said had reached a level beyond description.

———

9 a.m.

The Bangladeshi leader has lambasted Myanmar for the “atrocities” that have driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh in recent weeks.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged Buddhist-majority Myanmar to bring the Rohingya back, while parliament passed a motion Monday night urging the U.N. and other countries to pressure Myanmar for their safety and citizenship.

“Myanmar must take back every Rohingya who has entered Bangladesh and who are coming in now,” she told lawmakers late Monday. “We can cooperate to rehabilitate them in their country.”

Hasina criticized Myanmar’s authorities for the recent violence against the Rohingya, which she said had reached a level beyond description.

———

3 a.m.

The United States says it is “deeply troubled” by the Myanmar crisis, which hundreds of thousands of Muslims have fled to escape violence.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the administration continues to condemn the violence between Rohingya Muslims and Myanmar security forces.

The United Nations reported Monday that 313,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine — the biggest flight of the minority Rohingya in a generation.

The violence began Aug. 25, when an ethnic Rohingya insurgent group attacked police posts in Myanmar and security forces retaliated.

Villages were burned and hundreds of people died, mainly Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship and regarded by Myanmar’s majority Buddhists as illegal immigrants.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ABC News: International

Hurricane Irma exposes racial tensions on smashed St. Martin

In the chaotic days after Hurricane Irma smashed St. Martin, the storm also exposed simmering racial tensions on the island’s French territory, with some black and mixed-race residents complaining that white tourists were given priority during the evacuation.

It was the type of anger that has long plagued France’s far-flung former colonies — especially its Caribbean territories, where most of the population identifies as black and is poorer than the white minority.

Johana Soudiagom was disturbed to find herself among a tiny handful of non-whites evacuated by boat to nearby Guadeloupe after Irma devastated the island.

“It’s selective. Excuse me, but we saw only mainlanders,” she told Guadeloupe 1ere television, visibly shaken. “That’s a way of saying, ‘I’m sorry, only whites. There are only whites on the boat.'”

It’s common practice for tourists to be evacuated first from disaster zones for practical reasons, as they are staying in hotels and not in their homes and tend to have fewer resources such as food and vehicles. The French prime minister insisted Monday that the only people being prioritized were the most vulnerable.

Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said he understood islanders’ frustration with the government response but blamed part of the controversy on their “emotional shock, an impact that’s extremely hard psychologically.”

Soudiagom and other witnesses told Guadeloupe 1ere that the boat they took Friday carried tourists, including Americans, to safety but left many St. Martin residents behind, including needy mothers and children.

On Monday, France’s Representative Council of Black Associations asked the government for a parliamentary inquiry, citing concerns that those who were evacuated were not “necessarily the most in distress.”

“In my eyes, Irma is for the French Antilles what Hurricane Katrina was for Louisiana in the U.S. — an exposer of racial and social inequalities,” the group’s spokesman, Louis-Georges Tin, told The Associated Press.

The terror of facing down a Category 5 hurricane has combined with a long-held sense of isolation among local residents of St. Martin, some 6,700 kilometers (4,200 miles) from the French mainland and popular with European tourists.

“The natural catastrophe occurred in a place that’s very vulnerable socially, where there is a population of many different skin colors and a history of slavery,” said Michel Giraud, a French researcher who writes on race. “Of course there will be a perception of racism.”

The island of St. Martin — divided in the 17th century into the French territory of Saint-Martin and the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten — measures just 87 square kilometers (34 square miles). Its 80,000 residents are a vibrant ethnic mix descended mainly from Africa, Europe and Asia. The two sides of the island share a creole language that draws heavily on English vocabulary.

The French part of St. Martin is similar to other French holdings in the Caribbean in that its white minority is generally wealthier than its black majority. Because France bans the collection of data on race, there are no statistics to show how much wealthier.

It began as a colony whose economy was fueled by African slaves. But after slavery was abolished in 1848, Tin said, “there were no reparations for the slaves, only for the slave owners,” so the former slaves won freedom but remained destitute. “The economy is now based on tourism but it is still poor. The wages are significantly lower than the mainland France.”

The government is not the only one being accused of racial bias in the wake of the storm. Giraud said French television reports on the devastation focused disproportionately on white people.

“When I saw the pictures, I was shocked,” Giraud said. “In the coverage I saw, the victims were mostly white tourists, or white French mainlanders. But the poorest are always the first victims.”

Irma hit St. Martin on Wednesday, killing at least nine people on the French part of the island and damaging a majority of its buildings.

The following day, looters were seen hauling food, water and televisions from shops, and videos featuring predominantly black people raiding shops circulated online. Some took to social media to blame the thieving on non-whites and characterized the white evacuees as innocents escaping the chaos.

Tin said the island’s poorer residents were doing what they had to after an ineffective government response.

“What some call theft, others call survival,” he said. “When the state doesn’t do its job, it’s normal that the poorest do what’s necessary to survive.”

“In Florida, there were more than 1 million evacuated, and France says that with four days’ notice they couldn’t evacuate a much smaller number,” Tin said. “The question must be asked: Does it have to do with racism?”

The government argues that it is more difficult to transport tens of thousands of people off small islands in stormy weather than it is to tell people to drive to safety.

French President Emmanuel Macron planned to fly to St. Martin on Tuesday to inspect the damage and relief operations and to reassure the local population.

———

Adamson reported from Paris.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ABC News: International

Cuba sees devastation as Hurricane Irma veers toward Florida

As Irma left Cuba and directed its 130 mph (215 kph) winds toward Florida Sunday, authorities on the island were warning of staggering damage to keys along the northern coast studded with all-inclusive resorts and cities, as well as farmland in central Cuba.

There were no immediate reports of deaths in Cuba – a country that prides itself on its disaster preparedness – but authorities were trying to restore power, clear roads and warning that people should stay off the streets of Havana because flooding could continue into Monday.

Residents of “the capital should know that the flooding is going to last more than 36 hours, in other words, it is going to persist,” Civil Defense Col. Luis Angel Macareno said late Saturday, adding that the waters had reach at about 2,000 feet (600 meters) into parts of Havana.

As Irma rolled in, Cuban soldiers went through coastal towns to force residents to evacuate, taking people to shelters at government buildings and schools — and even caves.

Video images from northern and eastern Cuba showed uprooted utility poles and signs, many downed trees and extensive damage to roofs. Witnesses said a provincial museum near the eye of the storm was in ruins. And authorities in the city of Santa Clara said 39 buildings collapsed.

More than 5,000 tourists were evacuated from the keys off Cuba’s north-central coast, where the government has built dozens of resorts in recent years.

Civil Defense official Gregorio Torres said authorities were trying to tally the extent of the damage in eastern Cuba, home to hundreds of rural communities.

In Caibarien, a small coastal city about 200 miles (320 kilometers) east of Havana, winds downed power lines and a three-block area was under water. Many residents had stayed put, hoping to ride out the storm.

Before slamming into Cuba, Irma had caused havoc in lush Caribbean resorts such as St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Anguilla.

Many of Irma’s victims fled their battered islands on ferries and fishing boats for fear Hurricane Jose would destroy or drench anything Irma left untouched, but Jose veered away before doing much more damage.

On the Dutch side of St. Martin, an island divided between French and Dutch control, an estimated 70 percent of the homes were destroyed by Irma, according to the Dutch government.

Prime Minister William Marlin said about 1,600 tourists had been evacuated and efforts were being made to move 1,200 more.

Marlin said many countries and people have offered help to St. Maarten, but authorities were waiting on the weather conditions to see how it could be coordinated. Authorities are still trying to determine the extent of damage to the island but he said 28 police officers lost homes during the storms.

The U.S. State Department worked with the Defense Department to help more than 1,200 Americans fly out of the Dutch side of St. Martin, starting with those in need of urgent medical care, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

Carol Basch, a 53-year-old tourist from Savannah, Georgia, took refuge during the storm in the bathroom of her St. Martin hotel room after windows shattered. She stayed there praying for about four hours, surrounding herself with pillows.

“I kept saying, ‘Lord, please stop this, and soon, soon,'” said Basch, who was evacuated to Puerto Rico. “I’m glad I’m alive. I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

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

The U.S. National Hurricane Center downgraded a hurricane warning for Barbuda and Anguilla. A hurricane watch also was discontinued for nearby Antigua.

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

———

Rodriguez reported from Havana. Associated Press writers Michael Weissenstein in Havana; Ben Fox in Miami; Ian Brown in St. Thomas, U.S Virgin Islands; Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Seth Borenstein in Washington; Alina Hartounian in Phoenix; Thomas Adamson and Angela Charlton in Paris; and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.

———

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

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ABC News: International

Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida Keys, at least 1 dead

Hurricane Irma, which has strengthened again to Category 4, is bearing down on the Florida Keys, bringing damaging winds and heavy rain and leaving at least one person dead.

A man in Monroe County, which encompasses Key West, was killed after he lost control of a truck he has driving that carried a generator as winds whipped at tropical-storm strength, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

The death toll from the hurricane in the Caribbean meanwhile has risen to 22, bringing the total number of killed to at least 23.

The storm’s eye was as of 8 a.m. ET about to move over the Florida Keys, as it was about 20 miles from Key West and 110 miles south of Naples, Florida, on the state’s west coast.

Wind gusts up to 82 mph were reported in the Keys and up to 68 mph in Miami, according to the National Hurricane Center, reported ABC meteorologist Dan Manzo.

The National Weather Service earlier Sunday morning urged everyone in the Florida Keys to “hunker down,” warning, “the worst winds are yet to come.”

A tornado watch is also in effect across the area, with two twisters already reported in South Florida.

In Collier County, emergency vehicles were pulled from the roads Sunday morning as heavy wind gusts began blowing in, the county said.

A weather station near Fort Pierce reported a four-hour rainfall total of 10.53 inches between midnight and 5 a.m. The rainfall rate along the east coast of Florida was 3 inches per hour.

Parts of Tennessee were under a tropical storm watch Sunday morning, which could bring be a significant wind event for Alabama, Georgia, southern Tennessee and South Carolina.

The storm, which had been downgraded to Category 3 after making landfall as a rare Category 5 hurricane in Cuba early Saturday morning, has sent 124,000 people to Red Cross and Red Cross-affiliated shelters, as of Sunday morning. That figure does not include church and ad hoc shelters. More than six million people have been warned to evacuate its path.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott called the storm unprecedented.

“This is a life-threatening situation,” Scott said Saturday. “Our state has never seen anything like it.”

The governor stressed the dangers of what he called a “deadly, deadly, deadly storm surge.”

ABC News meteorologists are forecasting storm surges of 10 feet in Tampa and Sarasota, and 10 to 15 feet from Fort Myers to Naples. Somewhat lower storm surges of 3 to 6 feet may occur from Miami to Key Largo.

Winds were already picking up in Florida early Saturday, with gusts between 40 and 60 mph.

Hurricane-force winds with gusts over 115 mph are possible in the Keys by daybreak Sunday.

As of 7 a.m. ET Sunday, 478,340 customers in Florida were without power. In Miami-Dade County alone, 250,740 were without power.

Some 10,000 flights have been cancelled in anticipation of Irma, about 7,000 of them in Florida alone.

Ahead of Irma’s arrival in the Sunshine State, the last flights departed Friday night from Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Miami’s airport officially remains open, while Fort Lauderdale’s airport is closed for Saturday and Sunday.

Many ATM machines across southwest Florida were out of cash by late Friday night after people stocked up in case Hurricane Irma causes power outages that make debit and credit card transactions impossible, The Associated Press reported.

Approximately 6.3 million Floridians are under mandatory or voluntary evacuations, the Florida Division of Emergency Management said Saturday. When evacuation orders in South Carolina and Georgia are included, the number climbs to 6.8 million.

Germain Arena, a large shelter between Naples and Fort Myers along Florida’s west coast, is already at capacity Saturday as hundreds of people were in line waiting to get in.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez said Saturday morning about 25,000 residents are sheltered in Miami-Dade alone, a number he called “unprecedented in our history.” 

“We must remain vigilant,” Giménez said. “The storm will still strengthen … and we will be impacted.” 

A slew of counties and cities in south Florida have issued curfews as the storm nears. Counties include Broward, Flagler, Orange, Palm Beach, Volusia, and Seminole. The cities of Miami, Miami Beach, North Miami Beach, Homestead, Key Biscayne, Melbourne Beach, Coral Springs, and Coral Gables also issued curfews.

ABC News’ Chris Donato, Matt Foster, Daniel Peck and Max Golembo contributed to this report.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

ABC News: International