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Hurricane Irma Blasts Past Puerto Rico With 180-MPH Winds; Risk Rises For Florida

An aerial photograph released by the Dutch Department of Defense shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch portion of the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Photo:  Gerben Van Es/AFP/Getty Images

By Bill Chappell

Hurricane Irma is bringing death and destruction to the Caribbean and raising alarm in Florida, where the chance of a direct impact continues to rise. The storm is blamed for at least 10 deaths; thousands of people are being told to get out of its way.Irma brought strong winds and flooding to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands last night. Its dangerous eye passed north of Puerto Rico's main island — possibly sparing the area from the worst of the 185-mph winds that wreaked horrible destruction in Saint Martin, Anguilla, and Barbuda on Wednesday."We are in a state of siege," Daniel Gibbs resident of the French territorial council for Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, tells Radio Caraibes International."95 percent of the territory has been destroyed," Gibbs said, echoing the assessment of Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who told CNN Barbuda is now "barely habitable" after Irma's eye hit the island early Wednesday.Floodwaters have swamped cars and houses in Puerto Rico, where seven rivers are now running above their flood levels, the National Weather Service office in San Juan says.After moving past Puerto Rico, Irma is following the same track past Hispaniola, passing north of the island that's home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. As of 8 a.m. ET, its eye was about 110 miles north of Punta Cana.

Irma is sending hurricane-force winds outward up to 50 miles from its center; tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 185 miles.The hurricane is now moving west-northwest at 17 mph. The storm is expected to move near or over the Turks and Caicos and parts of the Bahamas and later Thursday, likely hitting parts of Cuba on Friday.