Hurricane Irma downgraded to Category 3, will regain strength before hitting Florida

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Hurricane Irma has weakened to a Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds, but it's expected to regain its strength before slamming into Florida. (KGO-TV )

More than 170,000 homes and businesses in Florida have lost power and the center of Irma is about 90 miles southeast of Key West.

Florida Power and Light said on its website that more than half of those outages were in the Miami-Dade area, where about 600,000 people have been ordered to evacuate.

The company has said it expects millions of people to lose power, with some areas experiencing prolonged outages.

VIDEO: Mammoth Hurricane Irma, Jose's scope breathtaking from space

The company said it has assembled the largest pre-storm workforce in U.S. history, with more than 16,000 people ready to respond.

As Irma's hurricane-force winds started to whip the Florida Keys, the storm stayed at a weakened 120 mph (190 kph) and took slow aim at Florida.

The National Hurricane Center says the storm's forward motion fell to 6 mph (10 kph) as the storm stuttered off the coast of Cuba. Forecasters say it could still increase in strength, but their forecast didn't show it.

The hurricane-force wind field stretched well over 100 miles. Forecasters say they are moving the forecast track slight west again.

France's government is sending hundreds more soldiers and police to restore order to the Caribbean island of St. Martin amid looting and chaos after Hurricane Irma.

The government also told all residents to stay inside and put the island and nearby St. Barts on its highest alert level as a new storm, Hurricane Jose, bears down on the area.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Saturday night that France is sending Foreign Legion troops, paratroopers and other reinforcements to St. Martin starting Sunday.

RELATED: Shelter animals from Florida arrive in Bay Area ahead of Irma

France already has several hundred gendarmes, soldiers, and other security forces but Philippe acknowledged that they are working in difficult conditions and need help.

St. Martin saw several people killed and vast damage to homes, electricity and water supplies.

The broadcaster Francetvinfo reported Saturday that the island's jail was also destroyed and its 250 inmates are now at large.

Many Florida families say online retailers let them down at the worst possible moment with cancellations and no-shows ahead of powerful Hurricane Irma even before the weather deteriorated.

The Associated Press has received more than 50 complaints from South Florida families who were expecting flashlights, battery-operated radios, water bottles and first-aid kits after placing orders with online retailers.

Customers said on Saturday that they received the cancellations only after evacuations had begun in their neighborhoods and local markets' shelves had emptied. Some had placed orders as early as Monday.

Other said their packages arrived in Miami but were either stuck at a sorting facility for a few days or delayed because of problems with couriers.

A Nestle-owned water delivery company, ReadyRefresh, apologized on Twitter for service disruptions and delays.

PHOTOS: Florida preps for Hurricane Irma


More than 50,000 people in Florida are seeking shelter in schools, community centers and churches as Hurricane Irma nears the state.

The government-sponsored shelters were open Saturday as officials warned 6.3 million Floridians to evacuate. The storm was expected to make landfall in Florida on Sunday. Those with nowhere to turn headed to the shelters while others sought lodging at hotels or with friends and family.

Red Cross shelter coordinator Steve Bayer said most people at shelters are grateful and happy.

Steve and Judith Smith of Orlando fled their mobile home and wound up at their local middle school after all the nearby hotels were sold out.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is relaxing pollution controls for emergency and backup power generating facilities in the Florida Keys' Monroe County to help keep power generated during and after Hurricane Irma.

The agency on Saturday announced its decision in a press release after a request by Florida environmental officials.

The "no action assurance" letter will allow two utility-scale units in the county to operate beyond their typical operating periods.

The EPA said the extra operation may increase pollution, but that the decision is in the public interest given the emergency.

"EPA policy allows the agency to issue no action assurances in cases where it is necessary to avoid extreme risks to public health and safety and where no other mechanism can adequately address the matter," the agency's release said.

Click here for more stories, photos, and video on Hurricane Irma.

Related Topics:
weatherhurricane irmahurricanestormsafetyfloodingflash floodingwindwind damageu.s. & worldFEMAevacuationFlorida
(Copyright ©2017 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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