MIAMI – Irma was continuing to weaken steadily as it moved on Friday in the direction of Cuba and South Florida, although it remains an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in its latest update at 11 am (1500 GMT) that hurricane conditions were spreading westward over portions of Cuba and the central Bahamas.
It said Irma was packing maximum sustained winds of 240 km/h (150 mph) and was now located about 655 kilometers (405 miles) southeast of Miami.
Irma, which caused several deaths and catastrophic damage when it lashed the Lesser Antilles earlier in the week, at one point had maximum sustained winds of 295 km/h.
The NHC said Irma was moving toward the west-northwest at 22 km/h and that a move toward the northwest was expected by late Saturday.
“On the forecast track, the eye of Irma should move near the north coast of Cuba and the central Bahamas Friday and Saturday, and be near the Florida Keys and the southern Florida Peninsula Sunday morning,” the NHC said.
It also warned of dangerous storm surge, saying that water could reach 1.8-3.6 meters (six to 12 feet) above ground in an area of southwest Florida stretching from Captiva to Cape Sable.
The southern Bahamas, an extensive archipelago of more than 700 islands located north of Cuba, was bracing for the hurricane’s impact.
After skirting the northern coast of Puerto Rico and the island of Hispaniola, Irma battered the Turks and Caicos Islands Thursday, although information about its impact on that British overseas territory, home to around 35,000 people, remains scarce.
The few images that have been released thus far show roofs ripped off and trees and power pylons lying on flooded streets.
The director of the Bahamas’ National Emergency Management Agency, Stephen Russell, said more than 1,200 people had been evacuated from islands in the southern part of the archipelago to the capital, Nassau.
The Bahamas’ Lynden Pindling International Airport will remain closed on Friday.
The storm caused catastrophic damage and several deaths in islands including St. Martin and Barbuda (part of Antigua and Barbuda).
In Puerto Rico, more than 900,000 people are reportedly without electricity and three people died.