Irma 8 a.m. update, Sept. 9

Hurricane Irma's projected path continued to shift west Saturday morning as it churns its way closer to U.S. landfall in south Florida. Because of the size of the storm, Glynn County is under a tropical storm watch.

The 8 a.m. path update from the National Hurricane Center suggests Irma could batter Florida's western coast as a major hurricane, Category 3 or higher, before weakening as it nears the Georgia border to a tropical storm. 

The storm was about 225 miles south of Miami at 8 a.m.

Local emergency management officials said winds could still be high with hurricane-force gusts and heavy rain as it passes. 

Glynn County officials reminded residents Friday evening that these are only projections and that the storm still could change its path drastically. The county is still under a mandatory evacuation order.

The current path shows Irma as a tropical storm passing over the Columbus area around 2 a.m. Tuesday. Columbus is where evacuees with the Need a Ride program were evacuated to Friday to a Red Cross shelter open there. Buses leaving Saturday morning at 10 a.m. from Lanier Plaza, 1919 Glynn Ave., will be heading to Dublin. Plans are for the people who went to Columbus yesterday to stay at the shelters where they are.

After battering Cuba early Saturday and leaving more than 20 dead across the Caribbean, a dangerous Irma is taking aim at south Florida with winds nearing 160 mph (257 kph) as another hurricane follows close behind.

Irma regained Category 5 status overnight, then dropped back to Category 4 early Saturday as thousands of people in the Caribbean fought desperately to find shelter or escape their storm-blasted islands and more than 6 million people in Florida and Georgia were warned to leave their homes. Wind speeds early Saturday were about 155 mph.

Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the eastern part of Cuba reported no major casualties or damage by mid-afternoon Friday after Irma rolled north of the Caribbean's biggest islands.

Many residents and tourists were left reeling after the storm ravaged some of the world's most exclusive tropical playgrounds, known for their turquoise waters and lush green vegetation. Among them: St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Anguilla.

Irma smashed homes, shops, roads and schools; knocked out power, water and telephone service; trapped thousands of tourists; and stripped trees of their leaves, leaving an eerie, blasted-looking landscape littered with sheet metal and splintered lumber.

On Friday, looting and gunshots were reported on St. Martin, and a curfew was imposed in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Many of Irma's victims fled their islands on ferries and fishing boats for fear of Hurricane Jose, a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds that could punish some places all over again this weekend.

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