Hurricane Irma has left Cuba, headed for Florida Keys

ABS News Barbuda Hurricane Irma

ABS News Barbuda Hurricane Irma

But that soon changed. Irma was 315 miles southeast of Miami and is forecast to approach the north coast of Cuba and the central Bahamas before striking southern Florida Sunday morning, the hurricane center said.

"If you've been ordered to evacuate, you need to leave now. not tonight, not in an hour, you need to go right now".

The new course brings a degree of relief for easterly cities such as Miami, which had feared a direct hit. On the Gulf coast, where the flat continental shelf worsens the threat, the surge could reach 15 feet from the cape to Captiva.

Irma has been hailed as one of the fiercest Atlantic storms of the century and is expected to hit Florida on Sunday morning.

Deadly Hurricane Irma battered central Cuba on Saturday, knocking down power lines, uprooting trees and ripping roofs the roofs off homes as it headed towards Florida.

"Oh God, this is going to destroy the town", said a local woman who identified herself only as Francis, 19.

Hurricane Irma has begun lashing coastal Florida with wind and rain, as some 75,000 Floridians have checked into emergency shelters in anticipation of the storm. Forecasters, though, maintain that unsafe conditions still may be present on the east coastline - including some storm surge and heavy rain bands.

Winds from the storm push the water toward the shore, Norman said. With the help of the landlord of the rental home, they were able to secure another place to sleep Friday, and Lowry said they're hoping to be able to get home soon.

Hurricane Irma was strengthening ahead of an all-but-certain collision with southern Florida after devastating the Caribbean islands and threatening to become the most expensive storm in USA history.

More than 50,000 of those moved into schools, community centres and churches to weather the storm in shelters. As per an estimate by the Florida Power and Light (FPL), almost 3.4 million of its customers could be without power at some point during Irma. The destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey two weeks ago in Texas and Louisiana served as a reminder of what lay ahead if measures were not taken to prepare for Irma. Its time over land reduced the storm's strength, but Irma could regain power as it crosses over open water on the way to the United States.

The center of the track crosses close to Cudjoe Key, where Hurricane Georges hit in 1998 and delivered a 10 to 12-foot storm surge, cut off water and electricity to the chain of islands, and left the Lower Keys a ragged mess.

At least four people were killed in the US Virgin Islands, officials told AFP. About 200 more troops were expected to arrive in the coming days.

This image made from video shows flooding caused by Hurricane Irma on Charlotte Amalie, in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017.

Irma now is lingering over the northern coast of Cuba and has not yet made its expected turn north toward Florida, according to The Associated Press.

While the storm's eyewall is projected to make landfall on Sunday, the NHC cautioned Irma's huge size puts people and property at risk in a radius extending hundreds of miles.

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