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‘Irma’ kills 14 in Caribbean

Sand is dumped along the dunes on Route A1A as protection ahead of Hurricane Irma in Flagler Beach, Fla., Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos (Reuters) – The eye of Hurricane Irma grazed the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday, rattling buildings after it smashed a string of Caribbean islands as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, killing 14 people on its way to Florida.

With winds of around 185 miles per hour (290 km per hour), the storm the size of France has ravaged small islands in the northeast Caribbean in recent days, including Barbuda, Saint Martin and the British and US Virgin Islands, ripping down trees and flattening homes and hospitals.

Winds dipped on Thursday to 165 mph as Irma soaked the northern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and brought hurricane-force winds to the Turks and Caicos Islands. It remained an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm, the highest designation by the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Irma was about 55 miles (85 km) south of Great Inagua Island and is expected to bring 20-foot (6-m) storm surges to the Bahamas, before moving to Cuba and plowing into southern Florida as a very powerful Category 4 on Sunday, with storm surges and flooding due to begin within the next 48 hours.

Across the Caribbean authorities rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of residents and tourists. On islands in its wake, shocked locals tried to comprehend the extent of the devastation while simultaneously preparing for another major hurricane, Jose, now a Category 3 and due to hit the northeastern Caribbean on Saturday.

In Miami, hundreds lined up for bottled water and cars looped around city blocks to get gas on Thursday in panicked preparations. Gas shortages in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area worsened on Thursday, with sales up to five times the norm.

“To the people of Florida, we just want you to protect yourselves, be very, very vigilant and careful,” said U.S. President Donald Trump.

Trump owns the waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, which was ordered to be evacuated, media said. He also owns property on the French side of Saint Martin, an island devastated by the storm.

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