UPDATE: Eye of Irma expected within 35 miles of San Juan

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The director of Puerto Rico's emergency management agency says the eye of Hurricane Irma is expected to be 35 miles (56 kilometers) from San Juan at 7 p.m. EST.

Abner Gomez says wind gusts of up to 100 mph (160 kph) could reach Puerto Rico's capital.

More than 600,000 people are without power and nearly 50,000 without water on Puerto Rico. Fourteen hospitals are using generators after losing power, and trees and lights posts are strewn across some roads.

The tiny island of Culebra currently reporting sustained winds of 88 mph and wind gusts of 110 mph.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The State Department is ordering some U.S. government personnel in the Bahamas to leave the Caribbean island chain ahead of the arrival of powerful Hurricane Irma.

As the storm pounded islands in the northeastern Caribbean on Wednesday, the department also moved to draw down its presence in several other area nations and warned Americans to reconsider any planned travel there.

The State Department ordered non-essential staff and the family members of American employees at the U.S. Embassy in Nassau to depart as Irma bore down with heavy rain and historic winds that could lead to life-threatening floods, mud slides and storm surges that could disrupt travel and government services.

Earlier, the department said it would allow U.S. personnel and their families to leave Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti at government expense.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The government has confirmed one death on Barbuda caused by Hurricane Irma.

Midcie Francis, spokesperson for National Office of Disaster Services for Antigua and Barbuda, says there has been massive destruction on the island of about 1,700 people.

"A significant number of the houses have been totally destroyed," said Lionel Hurst, the prime minister's chief of staff.

The strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever measured destroyed homes and flooded streets across a chain of small islands in the northern Caribbean, passing directly over Barbuda which was left largely incommunicado.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Hurricane Katia has formed in the Gulf off the coast of Mexico with sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph). The government of Mexico has issued a hurricane watch for the coast of the state of Veracruz from Tuxpan to Laguna Verde.

Katia is anticipated to drift toward the coast on Thursday.

The announcement of Hurricane Katia came minutes after the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Hurricane Jose had formed in the open Atlantic, far from land and well east of Hurricane Irma.

Jose has winds of 75 mph (120 kph) and is quickly strengthening, but poses no immediate threat to land.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Hurricane Jose has formed in the open Atlantic, far from land and well east of Hurricane Irma.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Wednesday that Jose poses no immediately threat to land. But meteorologists warn the storm's path could change.

Jose has winds of 75 mph (120 kph) and is quickly strengthening.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- French President Emmanuel Macron says he expects that victims and heavy damages will be discovered when Hurricane Irma has left the islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy in the French West Indies.

Speaking at a crisis center set up at the Interior Ministry, Macron told reporters Wednesday night that while if it's too early to give a precise toll and figures, he can already say "the toll will be harsh and cruel."

Macron said there will be victims and that "the material damage on both islands is considerable."

Saint Barthelemy is a French overseas island in the West Indies while nearby Saint Martin is a half-French half-Dutch island.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The Netherlands is urging the United Nations and its 193 member states to provide assistance and show compassion with people in the Caribbean suffering from the impact of Hurricane Irma.

Dutch U.N. Ambassador Karel van Oosterom made the appeal during a General Assembly meeting Wednesday on protecting civilians in conflict. He said the eye of the hurricane passed right over Sint Maarten, one of four countries in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

He said the hurricane earlier hit two special municipalities of the Netherlands located in the Caribbean Sea, Sint Eustatius and Saba.

Van Oosterom said "first information indicates that a lot of damage has been done but communication is still extremely difficult."

He called for "compassion with the people in the region who are suffering right at this moment, to show solidarity, and to provide assistance where necessary."


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Britain is sending a Royal Navy ship to the region struck by Hurricane Irma to provide humanitarian assistance and is also sending aid experts to the region.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel said Wednesday the ship will carry Royal Marines and Army engineers along with water purification equipment and other support items.

She said, "The thoughts of the British people are with those affected by Hurricane Irma and Britain has already taken swift action to respond."


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- Dutch authorities are trying to gauge the extent of damage in Sint Maarten from Hurricane Irma, but officials say it appears to be significant.

Sint Maarten is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and shares an island with the French territory of St. Martin. The island is east of Puerto Rico.

Dutch Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk says the damage wreaked on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten by Category 5 Hurricane Irma is "enormous."

Dutch Caribbean coast guard spokesman Roderick Gouverneur says coast guard officials in Curacao have lost communication with their base in Sint Maarten.

Plasterk told reporters in The Hague on Wednesday that the damage caused by Irma's direct hit on the island "is so major that we don't yet have a full picture, also because contact is difficult at the moment."

He says it remains unclear if Irma caused casualties.

About 100 troops are on the island helping local authorities assess damage and repair vital infrastructure in the storm's aftermath. Two navy ships are also steaming to the island to offer help.


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the eye of Hurricane Irma is passing over the British Virgin Islands.

It says a wind gust of up to 110 mph (177 kph) has been reported a little to the west at Buck Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

At 1 p.m. local time, the storm was centered about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of St. Thomas and 105 miles (170 kilometers) east of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

It was moving to the west at 16 mph (26 kph)


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- Among the people hunkered down ahead of Hurricane Irma is Richard Branson, the head of the Virgin Group.

Branson owns small Necker island in the British Virgin Islands and he's posted a blog entry saying he and friends have "experienced a night of howling wind and rain as Hurricane Irma edges ever closer."

He says "the atmosphere is eerie but beautiful."

Like many in the region, Branson says he and his group will shelter indoors as the storm hits, though his guests may have it better than most. They're headed for a concrete wine cellar.

He adds: "I suspect there will be little wine left in the cellar when we all emerge."


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini says Hurricane Irma is so record-breaking strong it's impossible to hype.

Uccellini told The Associated Press on Wednesday he's concerned about Florida up the east coast to North Carolina, starting with the Florida Keys.

He warns that "all the hazards associated with this storm" are going to be dangerous.

Hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel of MIT calculates that Irma holds about 7 trillion watts -- about twice the energy of all bombs used in World War II.


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- A Dutch navy spokeswoman says that marines who flew to three islands hammered by Hurricane Irma have seen a lot of damage, but have no immediate reports of casualties.

The Category 5 storm made a direct hit Wednesday on the island where the Dutch territory of St. Maarten is located, though the scope of damage isn't yet clear. Some 100 Dutch marines flew to the islands on Monday to prepare for the hurricane.

Navy spokeswoman Karen Loos says that some troops were able to send images of destruction from St. Maarten and another island, St. Eustatius.

Loos says, "You do see there is a lot of damage. Trees, houses, roofs that are blown out. A lot of water, high water."

She says the extent of the damage elsewhere on the island is not yet clear.

The first of two Dutch naval vessels heading for the islands is expected to arrive at 8 p.m. local time in St. Maarten.


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- President Donald Trump says Hurricane Irma looks like "something that could be not good."

Ahead of a meeting with Congressional leaders Wednesday, Trump said the group had a lot to discuss, including what "seems to be record-breaking hurricane heading right toward Florida and Puerto Rico and other places."

Trump says "we'll see what happens." He adds: "it looks like it could be something that could be not good, believe me not good."

Hurricane Irma is the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history. It made its first landfall in the islands of the northeast Caribbean early Wednesday. Trump has declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- President Donald Trump's homeland security adviser says the government can handle Hurricane Irma relief because the life-saving phase for Hurricane Harvey is over and has entered a longer term phase focused on individuals.

Tom Bossert tells The Associated Press that the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas are not being forgotten as Irma hits the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and possibly Florida later this week. He says those in the path of the newest storm should heed evacuation orders.

For Harvey, he says the government is working on longer-term assistance, such as Small Business Administration loans, unemployment wages and reconstruction.


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- The U.S. State Department is warning U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to Cuba, Haiti or the Dominican Republic due to the expected impact of Hurricane Irma.

It notes that the Category 5 storm could bring life-threatening flooding, flash flooding, mudslides, and storm surge, while travel and other services will likely be disrupted.

The department says it has authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and their family members from the three countries due to the hurricane.


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne says the twin-island nation appears to have weathered its brush with Hurricane Irma.

Browne says in a statement that there were no deaths in Antigua.

He says that preliminary reports also indicate there are no deaths in Barbuda despite widespread reports of damaged buildings and downed trees. He plans to visit as soon as possible.

The prime minister says the airport will reopen at 2 p.m.


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- Hurricane Irma has caused torn off rooftops and knocked out all electricity on the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy and France has requisitioned planes and sent in emergency food and water rations.

The regional authority for Guadeloupe and neighboring islands said in a statement Wednesday that the fire station in Saint Barthelemy is under 1 meter (more than 3 feet) of water and no rescue vehicles can move.

It said the government headquarters Saint Martin is partially destroyed and the island is in a total blackout.

Electricity is also partially down on the larger island of Guadeloupe, where the threat receded despite danger of heavy flooding.

French minister for overseas territories Annick Girardin expressed fear "for a certain number of our compatriots who unfortunately didn't want to listen to the protection measures and go to more secure sites."

She added: "We're preparing for the worst."


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- President Donald Trump says his administration is closely watching Hurricane Irma.

On Twitter Wednesday, Trump says his "team, which has done, and is doing, such a good job in Texas, is already in Florida." He adds: "No rest for the weary!"

In a subsequent statement on Twitter, Trump says "Hurricane looks like largest ever recorded in the Atlantic!"

Hurricane Irma made its first landfall in the islands of the northeast Caribbean early Wednesday. It's on a path toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.

Trump has declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- The plane flying Pope Francis to Colombia is flying a changed flight path to avoid Hurricane Irma, which is slamming the Caribbean.

The special Alitalia jetliner, which departed late Wednesday morning from Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport, had been originally scheduled to fly over Puerto Rico and Venezuela before entering Colombia airspace. Instead, the revised route takes it south of the U.S. territory and includes flying over Barbados, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Vatican traditionally issues telegrams of papal greetings to nations he flies over while on pilgrimages. So the updated flight plan meant the Vatican had to draft new telegrams.

Francis' pilgrimage to Colombia is aimed at helping to solidify the South American nation's peace process. He returns to Rome on Sept. 11.


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- As Hurricane Irma continues to roar across the Caribbean on a path toward Florida, a new tropical storm has formed in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tropical Storm Katia formed early Wednesday off the coast of Mexico.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Katia's maximum sustained winds are near 40 mph (65 kph) with some strengthening forecast over the next two days. But the hurricane center says Katia is expected to stay offshore through Friday morning.

The storm is centered about 105 miles (165 kilometers) east of Tampico, Mexico, and is moving east-southeast near 2 mph (4 kph).


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- French authorities have ordered inhabitants to remain confined to their house and not go out under any circumstances in the French Caribbean islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy because of Hurricane Irma.

The French ministry of Interior has issued the highest possible alert for both islands of French overseas because they appear to be in the middle of the path of the dangerous Category 5 storm.

Schools, public services and ports have been closed.

Authorities recommend the population stay in the safest room of the house and get prepared for power cuts and disruption in the supply of water.

Two other French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique have been placed under a more moderate alert.


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- Officials in the island chain south of the Florida mainland are expected to announce evacuations as Hurricane Irma moves west through the Caribbean toward the state.

Officials in the Florida Keys say they expect to announce a mandatory evacuation for visitors starting Wednesday and for residents starting Thursday.

The Category 5 hurricane is expected to reach Florida by the weekend. On Wednesday morning it was about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Antigua.

People in South Florida raided store shelves, buying up water and other hurricane supplies. Long lines formed at gas stations and people pulled shutters out of storage and put up plywood to protect their homes and businesses.


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history has made its first landfall in the islands of the northeast Caribbean.

The National Weather Service said the eye of Hurricane Irma passed over Barbuda around 1:47 a.m. Residents said over local radio that phone lines went down as the eye passed.

The National Hurricane Center said Irma was maintaining Category 5 strength with sustained winds near 185 mph (295 kph) and heading west-northwest on a path toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.



 
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