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"Irma is a huge and unsafe storm system that continues to pose a threat to all of South Florida", said Barbara Sharief, mayor of Broward County, which covers the area north of Miami, including Fort Lauderdale.

So we were fretting this morning, not about leaving Miami, but about whether we could get in.

The tiny islands directly crossed by Irma, like Barbuda and St. Martin, did little to weaken it, but the storm's intensity could be measurably diminished by a close encounter with a larger land mass, such as Cuba, en route to the US mainland, scientists said. The storm is expected to strengthen again before making landfall in the U.S.

The eye of Hurricane Irma is expected to continue moving near the north coast of Cuba and the central Bahamas Friday and Saturday. Though created to withstand hurricane winds, city officials are warning people to stay away from them.

In South Carolina, a mandatory evacuation order was issued for eight barrier islands, including Hilton Head Island, the most populous of the islands with about 40,000 residents.

Forecasters warned of storm surge as high as 15 feet along a swath of southwest Florida and beyond.

Tens of thousands of people have joined an event advertised on Facebook to tackle the hurricane now bearing down on Florida, in an attempt to "show Irma that we shoot first". At least 54,000 people crowded 320 shelters across Florida. "When they told me that", he said, "that's all I needed to hear". There's no real line right now and the plaza says they will stay open as late as they can tonight, maybe midnight, until the Florida highway patrol says it's time to shut it down. Some 20,000 people were evacuated and more than 2,000 homes hit by floods.

Some people are venturing as far as 200 yards out to get to the water's new edge. The water is normally about 4 to 5 feet deep and reaches a seawall
Some people are venturing as far as 200 yards out to get to the water's new edge. The water is normally about 4 to 5 feet deep and reaches a seawall

Prime Minister William Marlin told the Dutch military that the Caribbean island lost many, many homes; schools are destroyed; both government buildings are severely damaged; many people have lost their homes; hotels are so damaged that tourists won't come; the electricity company lost its roof so generators aren't working; almost half the water tanks are gone; and all the gas stations are destroyed. Meteorologists predicted Irma's center would blow ashore Sunday morning in the perilously low-lying Florida Keys, then hug the state's west coast, plowing into the Tampa Bay area by Monday morning.

The US military is mobilising thousands of troops and deploying several large ships to help with evacuations and humanitarian relief.

In a park, the wind lifted up benches that had been screwed down into the concrete floor.

Another four people were killed on the US Virgin Islands, with a number of badly injured people airlifted to Puerto Rico.

One person is known to have died on the island of 1,600 residents, apparently a child whose family was trying to get to safer ground. There were 112 people injured, two seriously.

Most journalists know the feeling of heading somewhere other people are racing from and today ABC cameraman Bradley Fulton and I had our turn getting into Miami.

In Haiti, flooding was reported in the country's northwest region and a major national road connecting Cap-Haitien to Ouanaminthe was rendered impassible after a river washed over it, the country's Office of Civil Protection reported. The Netherlands estimates that 70 percent of the houses on St. Martin were badly damaged or destroyed.

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