Hurricane Irma battered the Turks and Caicos Islands early Friday as the fearsome storm continued a rampage through the Caribbean that has killed at least 11 people, with Florida in its sights.
Waves as high as 20 feet were expected in the Turks and Caicos. Communications went down as the storm slammed into the islands, and the extent of the devastation was unclear.
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At 5 a.m. Friday, Hurricane Irma was moving through the southeastern Bahamas as an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, and it is expected to remain that powerful during the next couple of days.
The storm is about 55 miles northwest of Great Inagua Island and 495 miles southeast of Miami, moving at 16 mph. It is currently moving toward the west-northwest and this motion is expected to continue for the next day or so with a decrease in forward speed. A turn toward the northwest is expected by late Saturday.
The hurricane is expected to be near the Florida Keys and the southern Florida Peninsula Sunday morning.
Late Thursday night, Miami-Dade and Broward were placed under a hurricane warning and storm surge warning .
The warnings extend from the Jupiter Inlet southward, around the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach, the Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee, and the Florida Bay, according to the National Weather Service’s 11 p.m. advisory. These areas were originally placed under a hurricane watch 12 hours earlier.
The official difference is a hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected within the warning area imminently. Once a warning is issued for the area, “preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” according to the National Hurricane Center.
As Hurricane Irma inches closer to Florida, new parts of the state were placed under a hurricane watch. This includes east coast regions north of Jupiter Inlet to Sebastian Inlet and areas on the west coast north of Bonita Beach to Anna Maria Island.
The storm surge may also be widespread, fueled by Irma’s sheer size, senior hurricane specialist Mike Brennan said. Along the Gulf’s flat coastal shelf, waters could rise far inland.
In Key West, ocean waters could rise as high as eight feet, forecasters warned, accompanied by battering waves. Winds that are expected to pick up Saturday afternoon may cause “structural damage to sturdy buildings, some with complete roof and wall failures,” leaving roads and bridges impassable.
Evacuation orders were expanded Thursday from the beaches and coastal areas inland, to cover large parts of Miami-Dade County — where about 650,000 people live — including Homestead, Florida City, parts of Coral Gables, Miami Shores and North Miami Beach. The county now has eight shelters open. Broward County has also ordered residents to leave the coast and low-lying areas. All residents and visitors have been ordered out of the Keys.
Over the next two days, Irma is expected to keep moving to the west-northwest around the southwestern edge of the ridge and and begin to slow. The trough — moving from the Midwest and tracked by meteorologists around the country with weather balloons launched every six hours — should begin to erode the ridge, letting Irma slide north.
But the timing and speed of the turn remain less certain, forecasters said, leaving Irma’s precise path unclear and a margin of error of about 120 miles at three days and 175 miles at four days. Wobbles are expected, which is why forecasters say more attention should be paid to the hurricane’s cone, and not a single track.
Forecasters are also tracking a second hurricane, Jose, which is expected to become a major hurricane Friday. Early Friday morning, the Category 3 hurricane was located about 535 miles east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles with sustained winds of 125 mph. The storm, with hurricane winds extending 35 miles from its center, is expected to near the islands Saturday.