Hurricane Irma, now a Category 3 storm, slowly turns to Florida

Hurricane Irma, now a Category 3 storm, slowly turns to Florida

Hurricane Irma, now a Category 3 storm, slowly turns to Florida

Reports of Irma's pending impact have been circulating for days, causing anxiety to soar among residents uncertain whether to heed mandatory evacuation orders or try to ride out the storm.

"That's been the problem with this hurricane is the hurricane cone, the forecast cone, really was over the entire state for the better part of a week", John said.

Hurricane Jose weakened slightly overnight but remained a risky Category 4 storm Saturday, with maximum sustained winds of 145 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said. A Category 5 hurricane has winds of 157 miles per hour. More than half a million of those are in the Tampa area, the region of the country most prone to a colossal storm surge disaster.

It will make landfall on the Florida peninsula somewhere west of Miami on a track that would take it up the state's west coast, including Tampa, forecasters said.

Florida governor Rick Scott told reporters: "We are running out of time".

Hurricane Irma weakened to a category 3 storm this afternoon - but officials have warned they expect it to regain strength.

More than 170,000 homes and businesses were without power late on Saturday night and that number could end up being millions, energy firms have warned.

- Of the 24 deaths blamed on Irma, nine were in unspecified French territories, one in Barbuda, one in the British overseas territory of Anguilla, two in Dutch-administered St. Maarten, four in the British Virgin Islands, four in the US Virgin Islands and three in Puerto Rico. "The priority now is not so much to save what Irma left behind, (it's) more so to save lives".

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And then there's the storm surge, the water washed ashore by the storm, an unpredictable hazard that local emergency managers fear could result in serious damage. While that was a little better-but still not good-for Miami, it was awful news for Tampa and the rest of the western coast of Florida, where many people had gathered hoping to ride out the storm. "I have lived through tropical storms before but nothing like this", Maybelis Viareal, 30, a receptionist at a hotel in the northern Cuban town of Remedios, told Reuters.

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Mass evacuations have sent throngs onto jammed highways heading north and created a severe gas shortage in some parts the state.

"We are islands. There are not just trucks that can roll in to help us", she said.

As Irma drew closer to the third most populous USA state, officials warned the 6.5 million Floridians under mandatory evacuation orders that they were down to their last hours to make a decision.

Irma is now packing winds of 215km/h and gusting 240km/h. Southeast Georgia could see rainfall of 6 to 12 inches and Southeast South Carolina could see 4 to 8 inches of rain, the weather service said. The states of Virginia and Alabama are also under states of emergency.

The same warning and watch extended up the SC coast through McClellanville.

Medical supplies and other aid are being flown from the United Kingdom to the areas worst affected by Irma following a £32m pledge from the British Government.

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