Irma Latest: Official says US can handle Irma relief
ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- The Latest on Hurricane Irma (all times local):
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 kmh) and heading west-northwest on a path toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.