Hurricane Irma Passing Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic With Eye on Florida
The center of powerful Hurricane Irma passed just north of Puerto Rico overnight and was set to go through the waters near the Dominican Republic and Haiti later Thursday while hitting all three with its powerful winds and rain.
By Thursday night, the U.S. National Hurricane Center expects the storm will close in on the Turks and Caicos and the southern Bahamas.
Irma killed at least one person in Barbuda and six people in St. Martin after rolling over those islands as a Category 5 storm with maximum sustained winds of 295 kilometers per hour. The NHC says Irma will remain a Category 4 or 5 storm for the next few days.
About 1 million people are without power in Puerto Rico, and the head of the power company on the U.S. territory said it could be four to six months before service is totally restored.
U.S. President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico, which has been struggling to maintain its infrastructure in the midst of a financial crisis. The declaration authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief efforts on the island.
Barbuda took a direct hit from Irma, which left behind what Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne called a "really horrendous situation." Browne said nearly every building was damaged.
Barbuda also faces the potential of being hit by Hurricane Jose later this week. That storm, which is not as strong as Irma, is forecast to pass near the northern Leeward Islands Saturday before curving north of the path that Irma has followed.
Saturday is the time Irma is expected to be affecting the U.S. state of Florida, still as a major hurricane. The latest forecast track issued by the NHC showed Irma going near Miami and up the state's east coast. Hurricane watches are expected to be posted for the state Thursday.
Officials in South Florida have already ordered people to evacuate coastal areas. Gas stations and grocery stores saw long lines Wednesday as people either fled to a safer area or stocked up supplies to ride out the storm.
Florida Governor Rick Scott told people to prepare now and not ignore mandatory evacuation orders. "You can rebuild your homes, but you cannot rebuild your life," Scott said.
Australian High Court Dismisses Challenges to Same-Sex Marriage Vote
Australia's High Court has rejected two separate legal challenges to the government's voluntary postal vote that could give lawmakers the go-ahead to legalize same-sex marriage.
The court did not issue any written opinions Thursday explaining why it decided to reject the challenges after two days of hearings.
Gay rights advocates went to the Melbourne-based court seeking to scrap the plan, arguing that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government does not have the authority to spend $97 million on a postal vote. They also expressed fears the vote could bring harm to Australia's gay, lesbian and transgender community, and have demanded lawmakers go on the record with a simple "yes" or "no" vote.
The High Court's decision means the government can go ahead and begin mailing the ballots next week, with the results to be announced in November. If a majority of "yes" ballots are returned, lawmakers would follow through with a vote on the measure the following month.