Hurricane Irma Weakens To Category 4 Storm, Remains Powerful

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MIAMI (AP) — Hurricane Irma has weakened to a Category 4 storm Friday as it batters the Caribbean on a path toward Florida, but remains a powerful hurricane.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Irma’s maximum sustained winds have decreased to near 155 mph (250 kph). The hurricane center says some fluctuations in strength are likely over the next day or two but Irma is expected to stay a Category 4 storm.

Just before 5 a.m. EDT Friday, the hurricane was centered about 55 miles (90 kilometers) northwest of Great Inagua Island and 495 miles (795 kilometers) southeast of Miami.

The first hurricane warnings were issued for parts of southern Florida as the state braced for what could be a catastrophic hit over the weekend. Following in Irma’s wake was Hurricane Jose, with some of the islands hit hardest by Irma in its expected path.

Hurricane Irma battered the Turks and Caicos Islands early Friday morning as it continued a rampage through the Caribbean that has killed at least 11 people, with Florida in its sights.

Waves as high as 20 feet (6 meters) are expected in the Turks and Caicos. Communications went down as the storm slammed into the islands, and the extent of the devastation was unclear.

France’s government is reporting looting of televisions and other goods on the Caribbean island of St. Martin after it was hammered by Hurricane Irma, as warships and military planes ferry police and rescue crews to the site.

Annick Girardin, minister for France’s overseas territories, described on BFM television Friday “scenes of pillaging” of televisions as well as food and water.

She lamented “how people can take advantage of the distress of others” and said it’s essential for police to restore order and ensure urgent care for victims. The French government says four people are confirmed dead and about 50 injured on the French side of St. Martin. Another death was reported on the Dutch side of the shared island.

French military spokesman Col. Patrik Steiger told The Associated Press two French frigates are expected to arrive on St. Martin on Friday and military transport planes and helicopters are bringing in personnel and aid to the local population from the nearby French island of Guadeloupe.

As for Hurricane Jose, it has now become an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane.

Jose now has top sustained winds of 150 mph (240 kph) and as it moves toward the northern Leeward Islands at a speedy 18 mph.

A Tropical Storm Watch has been issued for St. Thomas and St. John.

The government of Antigua has issued a Tropical Storm Watch for the British Virgin Islands

The government of France has issued a Tropical Storm Warning for St. Martin and St. Barts.

The government of Sint Maarten has issued a Tropical Storm Warning as well.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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