Hurricane Irma batters Cuba on way to Florida

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The new track predicted by ABC forecasters had the storm passing up over the Keys, then up along the west coast of the peninsula.

The first bands of Irma hit Virginia Key, off Miami, with gusts of 56 miles (90 kilometers) an hour while the core raked northern Cuba 365 kilometers away.

With Hurricane Irma rapidly approaching, a few curious storm watchers in Jacksonville, Florida, spent the morning trying to catch an early glimpse of the fury that's set to descend on their state.

But Irma is so wide that authorities were bracing for destructive storm surges on both coasts and the Florida Keys, the chain of low-lying islands that stretch south of Miami toward Cuba.

As Hurricane Irma barrels across the Caribbean toward Florida, Miami Beach residents who refused to join the millions fleeing their state are out walking dogs and surfing in a ghostly city.

Scott warned of deadly storm surges of 6 to 12 feet above ground level along the east and west coasts of Florida.

It is then forecast to change direction and head north towards the USA state of Florida, where a state of emergency has been called.

On Friday, the agency warned via Twitter that "nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe", and that residents should clear out while they were able. "They said this one is going to be bigger than Andrew".

At least 24 people have died after Irma earlier hit several Caribbean islands. "If you're in an evacuation zone, leave".

"It has now stopped raining, but all night there was a bad wind", which ripped up trees, knocked down power lines and damaged roofs, Gisela Fernandez, a 42-year-old nurse in central Villa Clara province, told AFP.

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State media reported damage to hospitals, factories and warehouses.

Ambulances and firefighters patrolled streets that were littered with hunks of roofs, power lines and tree branches cast down by the wind.

Winds dipped on Thursday to 265kmh as Irma soaked the northern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and brought hurricane-force winds to the Turks and Caicos Islands.

On the night of September 7, the storm made landfall on St. Martin, a tiny island of 74,000 people, popular with European tourists, reported The Atlantic. Forecasters expected winds of up to 93 miles per hour (150 kph), along with torrential rains and large waves.

Scott also renewed his urgent plea for at least 1,000 volunteer nurses to help evacuees with special needs like the elderly.

St Martin and St Barthelemy: Six out of 10 homes on St Martin, an island shared between France and the Netherlands, now uninhabitable, French officials say.

On Friday, another hurricane, Jose, strengthened to Category 4 as it followed the path of Irma, packing winds of 240 kph.

Even though Puerto Rico did not come across a direct encounter with Irma's center, close to 60 percent of its households were left without power on Friday.

Powerful Hurricane Irma was continuing to barrel toward Florida where it was expected to make landfall Sunday morning in southwest Florida and Tampa.

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