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Hurricane Irma weakens to Category 3 as it heads for Florida

A total of 6.3 million people have been ordered to evacuate the southern US State.

Updated 5.30pm


HURRICANE IRMA HAS weakened to a Category 3 storm, but US forecasters said it will likely regain power as it heads to the US state of Florida.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Centre downgraded the storm from a Category 4, but cautioned that Irma is “forecast to restrengthen while heading for south Florida and the keys”.

More than 6.3 million people have been ordered to evacuate Florida, as the fierce storm heads towards the State, packing powerful winds of 249 kilometres per hour.

“Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is expected to remain a powerful hurricane as it approaches Florida,” the NHC said in its latest public advisory.

irma Irma - with the smaller Jose, a category 4 storm, to the east. Earth Wind Map Earth Wind Map

Irma is expected to strike the Florida Keys late Saturday and Sunday before moving inland, and many residents have joined a mass exodus amid increasingly dire alerts to leave the State.

U.S.-MIAMI-HURRICANE IRMA-APPROACH Dark clouds are seen as hurricane Irma approaches in Miami, Florida. Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

The hurricane made landfall in Cuba earlier, leaving a trail of death and destruction on a string of Caribbean islands.

The monster storm had made landfall on the island’s Camaguey Archipelago in the early hours of the morning Irish time, with the eye of the storm just 190 kilometres east-southeast of the Cuban city of Caibarien.

A team of Met officers from the UK are being deployed to the British Virgin Islands today to assist in the policing response to Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean.

The team, comprising one inspector, two sergeants and 14 constables will board a military flight from Brize Norton to Barbados and from there will be deployed to provide policing support to the British Virgin Islands Police Force.

Hurricane Irma Florida Near-empty shelves are seen at a grocery store in Florida. Paul Chiasson Paul Chiasson

About 6.3 million people in Florida — more than one-quarter of the state’s population — have been ordered to leave, and another 540,000 have been ordered out on the Georgia coast.

Authorities in the US have opened hundreds of shelters for people who choose not to leave. Hotels as far away as Atlanta have filled up with evacuees.

“If you are planning to leave and do not leave tonight, you will have to ride out this extremely dangerous storm at your own risk,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said.

The governor urged everybody in the Keys, where forecasters expect the storm to hit first, to get out.

Hurricane Irma Florida Traffic rolls at a crawl on the northbound lanes of Florida's Turnpike near the intersection of I-75 in Wildwood. Stephen M. Dowell Stephen M. Dowell

Irma killed at least 20 people in the Caribbean and left thousands homeless as it devastated small resort islands.

In Florida, petrol shortages and gridlock plagued the evacuations, turning normally simple trips into tests of will.

Parts of interstates 75 and 95 north were bumper-to-bumper, while very few cars drove in the southbound lanes.

To the east of Irma, meanwhile, Hurricane Jose, a Category 4 storm, is following behind, threatening further damage.

- Reporting from AFP and Associated Press 

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