Sex offenders seeking refuge from Hurricane Irma in Florida have been warned by police they will be turned away from shelters. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said criminals with warrants out for their arrest would also be denied entry – and would instead be taken to jail.
He tweeted on Wednesday (6 September): "If you go to a shelter for #Irma, be advised: sworn LEOs [law enforcement officers] will be at every shelter, checking IDs. Sex offenders/predators will not be allowed."
He added: "We cannot and we will not have innocent children in a shelter with sexual offenders & predators. Period."
The sheriff went on to tweet: "If you go to a shelter for #Irma and you have a warrant, we'll gladly escort you to the safe and secure shelter called the Polk County Jail."
Sheriff Judd did not reveal what action would be taken against sex offenders who tried to seek refuge, or where they were advised to go to ensure they were safe during the storm.
Hurricane Irma – one of the most powerful Atlantic storms ever recorded – is likely to hit South Florida on Sunday morning.
Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency and officials have imposed mandatory evacuation for some parts of the Miami metro area and the Florida Keys.
Winds of up to 185mph were recorded as the Category 5 storm cut a path of destruction across the northern Caribbean on Wednesday and Thursday.
At least 10 are reported to have died, with thousands left homeless as buildings were flattened.
French overseas territories of Saint-Martin and Saint Barthelemy suffered extensive damage, officials said. Sint Maarten, the Dutch side of the Saint Martin island, was equally devastated by the storm.
"It's a tragedy, we'll need to rebuild both islands. Most of the schools have been destroyed," said French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb.
Daniel Gibbs, chairman of a local council on Saint Martin, told Radio Caribbean International: "It is an enormous disaster, 95% of the island is destroyed. I am in shock."
French President Emmanuel Macron's office said he will go to the islands has soon as weather conditions permit. He said France is "grief-stricken" by the devastation caused and called for concerted efforts to tackle global warming and climate change to prevent similar natural disasters in the future.
Meanwhile, the UK government said Irma inflicted "severe and in places critical" damage to the British overseas territory of Anguilla. Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan said the Caribbean island took the full force of the hurricane, and that the British Virgin islands have also suffered "severe damage."
Irma blacked out much of Puerto Rico, raking the US territory with heavy wind and rain while staying just out to sea.
The US National Hurricane Center predicted Irma would remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it passes just to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, nears the Turks & Caicos and 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.
Gov. Rick Scott, who has mobilised parts of the state's National Guard, declared a state of emergency and asked the governors of Alabama and Georgia to waive trucking regulations so gasoline tankers can get fuel into Florida quickly to ease shortages.
An estimated 25,000 people or more left the Florida Keys after all visitors were ordered to clear out, causing bumper-to-bumper traffic on the single highway that links the chain of low-lying islands to the mainland.
Forecasters said it could punish the entire Atlantic coast of Florida and rage on into Georgia and South Carolina.