SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Irma is flooding parts of the Dominican Republic as it roars by just off the northern coast of the island it shares with Haiti.
In the meantime, a hurricane watch is now in effect for the Florida Keys and parts of South Florida.
Officials said about 500 tourists in the Bavaro-Punta Cana area were moved to more secure shelters just ahead of the Category 5 storm.
Civil Defense Director Rafael Carrasco says a landslide in the Samana Peninsula affected eight houses and more than 2,500 people have been evacuated.
Punta Cana airport has reopened after being closed for several hours.
Haiti’s northern coast will be next, but Irma’s stronger winds have yet to reach that side of the island of Hispaniola.
The U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami says a watch has been issued for the Florida Keys, and on the South Florida mainland from Jupiter Inlet southward and around the peninsula to Bonita Beach.
The center noted that Hurricane Irma was still an “extremely dangerous” Category 5 hurricane, although its winds had decreased slightly from 180 mph (285 kph) to 175 mph (280 kph).
The hurricane was headed for the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday.
The Hurricane Center has predicted that Irma will remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it passes the Turks and Caicos, parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night, and skirts Cuba on Friday night into Saturday.
It will then likely head north toward Florida, where people were rushing to board up homes, fill cars with gasoline and find a route to safety.