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Live Briefing: Hurricane Irma, Churning Through Caribbean, Hits Turks and Caicos

Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of up to 175 miles an hour, continued to tear through the Caribbean on Thursday, heading for the Bahamas and the northern coast of Cuba, according to officials.

The death toll from the storm was at least seven as of Thursday afternoon, but the authorities warned that the number could rise as emergency crews reached flooded areas and as communications improved. The hurricane is expected to hit the Florida Keys and South Florida starting Saturday evening, said Kevin Scharfenberg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

A second storm, Jose, strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean and could hit Antigua and Barbuda, which have suffered extensive flooding and wind damage from Irma, according to the National Hurricane Center.

In Florida and Georgia, officials issued mandatory evacuation orders for coastal and some inland areas, leading to gas shortages and heavy traffic on local highways. The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for South Florida, the Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay.

• Half of the 100,000 residents of Antigua and Barbuda have had their homes destroyed or heavily damaged, the prime minister said.

• The governor of Puerto Rico said at a news conference that electrical service had been restored to 144,000 households — which still leaves nearly a million in the dark.

• Officials in Florida have issued evacuation orders, including mandatory ones for all of Monroe County and for parts of Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Pinellas and other counties.

• Irma’s 185-m.p.h. winds persisted for more than 24 hours, the longest period ever recorded. The French weather service described it as the most enduring superstorm on record.

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Conditions are deteriorating in Turks and Caicos.

Hurricane Irma slammed into Grand Turk on Thursday evening, ripping off dozens of residential roofs, flooding streets, snapping utility poles and causing an island-wide blackout. It also damaged the roof of the hospital in Cockburn Town, the capital of Turks and Caicos, a British overseas territory.

Providenciales, the most populous of the Turks and Caicos’s 40 islands, was experiencing howling winds, rough seas and steady rain. Hurricane shelters across the island were full. A government spokesman, Zhavago Jolly, said he had not received any reports of fatalities or injuries.

Earlier in the day, Virginia Clerveaux, the director of the Disaster Management Department, warned that emergency workers would “not be able to provide relief services during this time until further notice.”

HAYDEN BOYCE

Haiti shuts down, but avoids the worst.

Moderate winds and rain were reported in northern Haiti, but the impact was not nearly as severe as officials had feared.

Although two people were reported injured near Cap-Haïtien after a tree fell on their house, “to this moment, we have had no major devastation,” Interior Minister Max Rudolph Saint-Albin said at a news conference Thursday evening. He cautioned that rain would continue and that flooding might still occur.

Despite public warnings broadcast across the country over the past two days, fewer than 160 people went to temporary shelters in the north, according to preliminary government figures. Many feared that their unattended houses would be looted, or did not believe the government’s dire predictions, said Tania Escamilla, Oxfam’s regional communications coordinator.

This time, luck seemed to be on their side.

Officials had been worried not just about possible drownings and injuries from the storm, but also that a surge of cholera could follow, as happened last year after Hurricane Matthew devastated the country’s southwest.

— CATHERINE PORTER

In Puerto Rico, ‘our prayers were answered.’

In Puerto Rico, nearly 70 percent of households were without power immediately after the storm, but the island was otherwise largely unscathed, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said on Thursday. By the evening, power had been restored to about 144,000 households, though nearly a million were still in the dark.

Roughly 55 percent of hospitals were functioning, Mr. Rosselló said.

“We would like to start out thanking the Almighty,” he said of the relatively small impact, with fallen trees and electrical poles making up the bulk of the damage on the main island. “Our prayers were answered.”

Many residents, though grateful the damage was not worse, were furious about the vast power failures. How is it possible, Puerto Ricans wondered aloud, that a hurricane that passed at a distance and hardly claimed a shingle could leave more than a million households in the dark?

“This is an abuse, a lack of respect,” said Isla Rosado, a 58-year-old secretary. “Irma had not even arrived yet when we were already without power.”

— FRANCES ROBLES and IVELISSE RIVERA

A devastated Barbuda braces for yet another hit.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda said that half of Barbuda had been left homeless by the storm, which blew through on Wednesday. Officials declared a state of emergency. And with another storm, Hurricane Jose, expected soon, many of Barbuda’s 1,600 residents are trying to evacuate to their sister island, Antigua.

Michael Semple, a resident of Codrington, said his roof had been blown away and his kitchen destroyed. “The only thing I have left is my wife and my family,” he said.

Teline Charles, 33, a New Yorker who was visiting family in Barbuda when the hurricane hit, said she had “never experienced anything like that.”

“The roof came off during the storm,” she recalled, “and we actually had to leave the house and run into the car until the eye came, and then ran for better shelter.”

With a hurricane watch in effect as Jose approaches, the government is hoping to transport all of Barbuda’s residents to Antigua by the end of Friday, either by sea or by air.

In the Dominican Republic, officials evacuated some areas near the beachfront town of Cabarete on the north coast, though some residents chose to stay boarded up in their homes and ride it out.

President Danilo Medina canceled work for public and private companies, and schools were closed until Monday as emergency workers spread out to manage the expected fallout. But residents in Cabarete said that so far, the effects of the storm had been relatively mild.

“It’s really not that bad,” said Lindsay Sauvage, who lives with her family in Cabarete and said the electricity had shut off around 3 a.m. “We expected much worse.”

— CARL JOSEPH and AZAM AHMED

‘It’s just unbelievable. It’s indescribable.’

Four people have been confirmed dead on the island of St. Martin, Mr. Philippe, the French prime minister, said on Thursday, lowering a previous toll of eight deaths given by local rescue officials.

Around 50 people were injured, including two seriously, he said, and 65 percent of homes on the island are uninhabitable. Rescue workers are still assessing the damage on St. Martin and St. Barthélemy.

“The destruction is massive,” Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said.

“By chance, the airport in the north, the French airport, has not been hit too much, so we are going to be able to land helicopters and then planes,” he said of St. Martin. The southern airport, in the Dutch part of the island, was more severely hit.

Mr. Collomb said the French authorities were sending barges filled with water and 100,000 French Army rations to the two islands, enough to sustain people there for four days.

He said the main priorities were to restore electricity, the desalination plant that provides the island with drinkable water, and phone networks.

The mobile phone company Orange Caraibe said on Twitter that it was restoring phone service to the islands, with 40 percent functioning by late afternoon in St. Martin and 20 percent in St. Barthélemy.

Looting has begun, sometimes in view of police officers who have stood by idly, according to the Guadeloupe 1ère television network.

Daniel Gibbs, the president of the French territorial council on St. Martin, told Radio Caraïbes International on Wednesday night that “95 percent of the island is destroyed.”

“There are shipwrecks everywhere, destroyed houses everywhere, torn-off roofs everywhere,” Mr. Gibbs said. “It’s just unbelievable. It’s indescribable.”

Asked what the island needed, Mr. Gibbs said, “Everything.”

— AURELIEN BREEDEN, ELIAN PELTIER and PAULINA VILLEGAS

Britain’s response is criticized.

As the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British territory, braced for Hurricane Irma, London came under criticism for not doing enough for territories hit by the storm, like the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, where one person died.

Some argued that the British response was tepid compared with France’s. Josephine Gumbs-Connor, a lawyer from Anguilla, told the BBC that the British government should have done more.

“The French made sure they had military on the ground so the response given is timely, which makes it effective, which makes it helpful to our people,” she said.

Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, defended the government, saying it had responded quickly. And Priti Patel, the international development secretary, said a naval ship had been deployed to the region with 40 Marines, Army engineers, vehicles, tents and equipment. Britain has also sent three experts in humanitarian interventions, she said.

— DAN BILEFSKY and ILIANA MAGRA

An increased threat to Florida, and now Georgia.

The hurricane is expected to be Category 4 when it makes landfall in Florida on Saturday, the National Hurricane Center said. Tropical-storm-force winds are expected to batter the Florida Keys, which are under a mandatory evacuation order.

President Trump has declared a state of emergency in Florida, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. He said on Thursday that Florida was “as well-prepared as you can be for something like this.”

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida ordered all public schools, state universities and state government offices closed from Friday through Monday, and said he planned to activate 7,000 National Guard soldiers by Friday. He warned on NBC’s “Today” show that Irma was “way bigger than Hurricane Andrew,” which hit the state hard in 1992, and that it could strike either coast.

On CBS’s “This Morning,” Mr. Scott said that fuel was a particular concern — one that he discussed with the White House and with Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Wednesday — and that highways were already becoming crowded.

Rosi Edreira, 49, said she and her husband were evacuating from Miami. She stayed put during Hurricane Andrew 25 years ago, and “I’m not doing that again,” she said.

“When they start comparing it to Andrew,” Ms. Edreira added, “that’s not a good sign.”

In Florida, voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders are in place in Miami-Dade County, the Florida Keys, and portions of numerous other counties — including the part of Palm Beach County that is home to Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s estate. Mandatory evacuations will also begin on Friday morning in seven cities around Lake Okeechobee: Belle Glade, Canal Point, Clewiston, Lake Harbor, Moore Haven, Pahokee and South Bay.

In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal ordered mandatory evacuations beginning on Saturday for all areas east of Interstate 95, including Savannah, as well as for some inland areas where storm surge might occur.

Mr. Scott said the storm surge in Florida would be unlike anything the state had seen. “This storm surge can kill you,” he said.

Elizabeth Chifari, who has lived in Miami for 40 years, said she was nervous but determined to ride the storm out at home with her cat. She would have gone to stay with her son, she said, but he lives in Houston, which was just ravaged by Hurricane Harvey.

“I don’t know what else I can do,” Ms. Chifari, 66, said. “I had to make a decision. It might not have been the right decision.”

— MAGGIE ASTOR, JONAH ENGEL BROMWICH, EMILY COCHRANE, FRANCES ROBLES and TIMOTHY WILLIAMS

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