Consulate: 6,000 Americans stuck on St. Martin

(AP)- The U.S. Consulate General in Curaçao says it believes about 6,000 Americans are stranded on St. Martin after Hurricane Irma leveled the Caribbean island.

The consulate is collecting the names and locations of the stranded and says it is working with the U.S. and other governments to try to figure out how to get the Americans off the island either by air or boat.

Frantic Americans were calling relatives in the U.S. to try to get them off the island, especially because Hurricane Jose threatened a second blow to the tourist Mecca.

The island is split between French and Dutch control. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said four people were confirmed dead and 50 injured on the French side of the island. The toll could rise because rescue teams had yet to get a complete look at the damage.

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9:05 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is ordering the closing of all schools, colleges and universities throughout the state.

Scott announced late Thursday that all schools as well as state offices would be closed Friday through next Monday.

Many school districts and universities had already voluntarily agreed to close due to the looming arrival of Hurricane Irma over the weekend. But many school districts and colleges in north central and northwest Florida had remained open.

But in a brief statement Scott said he ordered all schools to shut down so that the buildings could be used potentially as shelters or as staging grounds for relief efforts.

He said Floridians "facing a life-threatening storm" and "every family must prepare to evacuate."

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8:55 p.m.

Florida officials want residents to evacuate the area directly south of Lake Okeechobee as Hurricane Irma approaches.

Gov. Rick Scott released a statement Thursday ordering an immediate voluntary evacuation for cities surrounding the southern half of the lake from Lake Port to Canal Point in Hendry, Palm Beach and Glades counties. Mandatory evacuations will be put in place beginning Friday morning.

The statement said Scott made the decision after discussing the Herbert Hoover Dike with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Col. Jason Kirk told Scott the structural integrity of the dike would not be compromised, but excessive could wind push some water over the dike.

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8:15 p.m.

The five living former U.S. presidents are creating the "One America Appeal" to raise money for storm recovery as Texas and Louisiana regroup from Harvey and Florida braces for Hurricane Irma.

The hurricane recovery effort was announced Thursday by former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.

Organizers say a special restricted account has been established through the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation to collect and quickly distribute donations. Officials say "100 cents out of every dollar" donated will help hurricane victims.

Donations designated to help victims of Harvey will be distributed to the Houston Harvey Relief Fund and the Rebuild Texas Fund. The appeal is expected to be expanded to help Irma victims.

Online donations can be made at OneAmericaAppeal.org .

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott is ordering the closing of all schools, colleges and universities throughout the state.

Scott announced late Thursday that all schools as well as state offices would be closed Friday through next Monday.

Many school districts and universities had already voluntarily agreed to close due to the looming arrival of Hurricane Irma over the weekend. But many school districts and colleges in north central and northwest Florida had remained open.

But in a brief statement Scott said he ordered all schools to shut down so that the buildings could be used potentially as shelters or as staging grounds for relief efforts.

He said Floridians "facing a life-threatening storm" and "every family must prepare to evacuate."

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8:55 p.m.

Florida officials want residents to evacuate the area directly south of Lake Okeechobee as Hurricane Irma approaches.

Gov. Rick Scott released a statement Thursday ordering an immediate voluntary evacuation for cities surrounding the southern half of the lake from Lake Port to Canal Point in Hendry, Palm Beach and Glades counties. Mandatory evacuations will be put in place beginning Friday morning.

The statement said Scott made the decision after discussing the Herbert Hoover Dike with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Col. Jason Kirk told Scott the structural integrity of the dike would not be compromised, but excessive could wind push some water over the dike.

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8:15 p.m.

The five living former U.S. presidents are creating the "One America Appeal" to raise money for storm recovery as Texas and Louisiana regroup from Harvey and Florida braces for Hurricane Irma.

The hurricane recovery effort was announced Thursday by former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.

Organizers say a special restricted account has been established through the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation to collect and quickly distribute donations. Officials say "100 cents out of every dollar" donated will help hurricane victims.

Donations designated to help victims of Harvey will be distributed to the Houston Harvey Relief Fund and the Rebuild Texas Fund. The appeal is expected to be expanded to help Irma victims.

Online donations can be made at OneAmericaAppeal.org .

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8 p.m.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Irma is "pummeling" the Turks and Caicos islands.

Forecasters say the Category 5 hurricane has top sustained winds of 175 mph (280 kph) and is expected to remain powerful for the next couple of days. Irma is centered about 55 miles (85 kilometers) west-southwest of Grand Turk Island and is moving west-northwest at 16 mph (26 kph).

In the Atlantic, Category 3 Hurricane Jose is moving toward the northern Leeward Islands. Jose has maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph) and is moving west-northwest at 18 mph (30 kph). The storm is about 540 miles (870 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles.

Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft are on the way to investigate Hurricane Katia in the Gulf of Mexico. Katia is stationary about 190 miles (310 kilometers) north-northeast of Veracruz, Mexico, and forecasters didn't expect much movement overnight. It has top winds of 80 mph (130 kph).

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6 p.m.

The University of Florida has canceled its football home opener against Northern Colorado because of impending Hurricane Irma.

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said Thursday that it "become obvious that playing a football game is not the right thing to do."

The game will not be made up.

Officials initially had moved the start time of the game in Gainesville from 7:30 p.m. Saturday to noon, but Stricklin says it became clear that getting to and from the game would create more problems for a state preparing for a Category 5 hurricane.

He also noted that gas and water supplies are at critical levels.

Stricklin says "the focus of our state and region needs to be on evacuations and relief efforts."

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5:40 p.m.

The three major amusement parks in Orlando, Florida, are all operating under normal conditions as Hurricane Irma threatens the entire state.

Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and Sea World said Thursday morning they are monitoring the movement of Irma, but at this point have made no plans to shut down their parks or alter the normal hours of operations. The storm is projected to reach the southern part of the state Saturday and some tracking models have the Category 5 Hurricane reaching central Florida on Monday.

Each park has refund or rescheduling policies in place for park visitors who may not feel comfortable visiting Orlando this weekend. The parks have their individual policies posted on their respective websites.

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5:30 p.m.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Irma was centered at 5 p.m. EDT Thursday about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Grand Turk Island and had top sustained winds of 175 mph (280 kph). It says the extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane is moving west-northwest at 16 mph (26 kph).

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose has become the third major hurricane of this year's Atlantic season. Jose now has top sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph). At 5 p.m. EDT, it was moving west-northwest at 18 mph (30 kph) and was about 660 miles (1,060 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia was beginning to move Thursday afternoon toward the coast of Mexico. Forecasters say the Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph), could be near major hurricane strength at landfall.

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5:20 p.m.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Irma was centered at 5 p.m. EDT Thursday about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Grand Turk Island and had top sustained winds of 175 mph (280 kph). It says the extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane is moving west-northwest at 16 mph (26 kph).

The Miami-based center says the Cuban government has now issued a hurricane warning for four provinces, including the Cuban keys along the island nation's north shore. That is in addition to hurricane warnings and watches previously issued elsewhere in the region. It says the distinct eye of Irma should keep moving between Hispaniola and the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday evening

In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia was beginning to move Thursday afternoon toward the coast of Mexico after being nearly stationary for hours some 215 miles (345 kilometers) east of Tampico, Mexico. Forecasters say the Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph), could be near major hurricane strength at landfall. The forecast calls for a turn southwestward nearing the coast late Friday or early Saturday.

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose has become the third major hurricane of this year's Atlantic season. Jose now has top sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph). At 5 p.m. EDT, it was moving west-northwest at 18 mph (30 kph) and was about 660 miles (1,060 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles.

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5:15 p.m.

Authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands say three people have died after Irma caused what they described as "catastrophic" damage.

Governor spokesman Samuel Topp said Thursday that the deaths occurred in the St. Thomas and St. Johns district. Officials say crews are clearing many roads that remain inaccessible.

Irma also killed four people and injured about 50 on the French side of St. Martin, an island split between Dutch and French control. Three more deaths were reported on the British island of Anguilla, independent Barbuda and the Dutch side of St. Martin.

The Category 5 storm destroyed homes, schools and roads as it roared through the northeast Caribbean this week and heads toward Florida.

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4:40 p.m.

The star-studded Sept. 12 telethon scheduled to help victims of Hurricane Harvey is expanding its reach to include those affected by Hurricane Irma as well.

Event organizers say that they are prepared to help in any way they can.

Beyoncé, Blake Shelton, Barbra Streisand and Oprah Winfrey will headline the one-hour telethon that will be simulcast next week on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CMT.

The event will be telecast live at 8 p.m. Eastern on Sept. 12, and on tape delay at 8 p.m. on the West Coast, and streamed live on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

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4:10 p.m.

Hurricane Irma's top sustained winds weakened by about 10 mph (16 kph) on Thursday because of a bit of dry air and interaction with land on the island of Hispaniola, but it is still a top-of-the-scale hurricane.

And according to meteorologist Jeff Masters with Weather Underground, Irma could intensify "back up to 185 mph (298 kph) or even higher because it is headed to warmer deeper water" over the Florida straits.

Although the hurricane center forecasts some more weakening because of upper-level winds that could arrive and fight the storm, Masters says those winds might develop too late on Sunday, after Irma has already turned north to Florida.

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4 p.m.

Maj. Jeremy DeHart has some advice for Floridians after flying through Hurricane Harvey last month and now through the eye of Irma at 10,000 feet on Wednesday.

The U.S. Air Force Reserve weather officer says to "take it seriously .... because this is the real deal."

DeHart has flown into about 20 hurricanes, and he says he's never gone into anything quite so powerful. Or beautiful. Inside Irma's calm, cool center, there's a stadium effect, with thunderstorms flashing on the surrounding eyewall. He calls it "spectacular," and says the "satellite images can't do it justice."

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3:45 p.m.

The fate of Florida depends on when and how Hurricane Irma makes a right turn.

National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini says forecasters have no doubt it will turn in the days ahead. If it's an early, sharp turn, Irma is more likely to keep closer to the peninsula's eastern shore or even over water as it churns north.

But if it turns later and more widely, the center of Irma and its maximum destructive capacity would move inland.

Jeff Masters, the meteorology director of Weather Underground, says the main factor determining the turn will most likely be a low pressure system expected to develop over the Great Lakes as part of a dip in the jet stream, with some extra help from winds flowing out of the newly formed Hurricane Katia.

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3:35 p.m.

South Florida officials are expanding evacuation orders as Hurricane Irma approaches, telling more than a half-million people to seek safety inland.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has announced evacuation orders for downtown Miami and other parts of the city, plus southern parts of the county. The expanded evacuation area also includes Homestead, Coral Gables, South Miami, Miami Shores and North Miami Beach.

County officials had already ordered evacuations Wednesday for Miami Beach and the other barrier islands.

The total population for the affected communities is nearly 700,000 people, though the evacuation zones don't always include entire cities. Miami-Dade County's population is about 2.7 million.

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3:20 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has a stark warning for anyone who wants to defy a mandatory evacuation order ahead of Hurricane Irma. He says: "If you live in any evacuation zones and you're still at home, LEAVE!"

Scott said he "cannot stress this enough. Do not ignore evacuation orders. You rebuild your home ... you cannot recreate your family."

And this: "Do not try to ride out this storm," he says. The time to leave is now, because he says "we can't save you once the storm hits."

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3 p.m.

The eye of Hurricane Irma is moving west-northwest off the Dominican Republic's northern coast as an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Irma has top sustained winds near 175 mph (280 kph) and is expected to continue moving between Hispaniola and the Turks and Caicos in the afternoon hours, on a course taking it to the southeastern Bahamas Thursday evening.

As of 2 p.m. EDT, Irma's crisply defined eye was about 65 miles (105 kilometers) north-northeast of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, moving at about 16 mph (25 kph) to the west-northwest.

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose has rapidly strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane with top sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph). Jose is following Irma's path, moving west-northwest at 18 mph (30 kph) over open ocean, about 660 miles (1,060 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia was virtually stationary Thursday afternoon, some 215 miles (345 kilometers) east of Tampico, Mexico. Forecasters say that Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph), should remain stationary through late Thursday, then approach the Mexican coast late Friday or early Saturday.

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2:40 p.m.

A second Dutch navy ship has arrived at the shattered island of St. Maarten and is "ready to deliver aid to the population in need."

The Dutch navy just tweeted that the Pelikaan ship has moored at the island's capital of Philipsburg to unload vital supplies. Another navy vessel, the Zeeland, already is in the area and has been using an onboard helicopter to assess damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma.

Two military aircraft are being loaded in the Netherlands before flying to the island of Curacao, from where they will fly onward to St. Maarten to deliver five days of food and water for the 40,000 population. The aircraft also are bringing 100 more troops to deliver aid, repair infrastructure and restore order.

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2:25 p.m.

Evacuation orders are multiplying across Florida as local officials try to get the most vulnerable populations to move to safety ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Miami Dade has now made evacuations mandatory for all of its coastal areas, barrier islands and mobile homes. Monroe County's mandatory order stands for the entire Florida Keys. Broward County's order remains voluntary for mobile homes and low-lying areas. Collier County issued a voluntary evacuation order for Marco Island.

County authorities across South Florida are making school buses available for people with special needs to get out.

Additional evacuations are expected throughout the state.

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2:10 p.m.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Jose has grown into a Category 2 storm, and it threatens some of the same islands ravaged just days ago by Hurricane Irma.

Jose was about 660 miles (1,060) kilometers east of the Lesser Antilles early Thursday afternoon, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph).

It was heading to the west-northwest at 18 mph (20 kph)

The Hurricane Center says a hurricane watch is in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, which is already trying to recover from Category 5 Irma.

Now Jose could approach those islands on Saturday.
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2:05 p.m.

The Dutch interior minister says one person is confirmed dead on the former colony of St. Maarten as a result of Category 5 Hurricane Irma.

Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk said Thursday that there are also a number of injuries and that the Dutch authorities still only have an "incomplete picture" of the damage on St. Maarten, which is home to some 40,000 people and suffered severe damage as Irma barreled over on Wednesday.

Plasterk also says there have been some public order problems including instances of looting. He says the Netherlands is sending an extra 50 police from Curacao.

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1:50 p.m.

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson says he and his staff rode out Hurricane Irma on his private Caribbean island without suffering injuries, but the area is heavily damaged.

The head of the Virgin Group owns small Necker island in the British Virgin Islands. He said in a blog entry Thursday that he and the staff who stayed with him in a concrete cellar on the island are safe and well.

Branson said the area surrounding his home is "completely and utterly devastated." He said entire houses have disappeared and "I have never seen anything like this hurricane."

Outside the cellar he said bathroom and bedroom doors and windows were blown out. He said he was communicating via a satellite phone, but all other communications were down.

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1:45 p.m.

Haiti's interior minister has ordered the evacuation of coastal areas in the north of the country.

That includes people living in and around Port-de-Paix and the island known as Il de la Tortue.

Haiti is expected to be spared a direct hit from Hurricane Irma but heavy rains and high surf could trigger dangerous floods in the impoverished country.

Interior Minister Max Rudolph Saint-Albin is urging people to move to higher ground. Shelters have been set up the Civil Protection agency.

The evacuation is mandatory but Haiti does not have enough police or other officials to enforce evacuation orders and the number of people who left vulnerable areas is not known.

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1:35 p.m.

The Cuban civil defense agency is preparing people on the northern coast of Cuba's eastern provinces for a sideswipe from Hurricane Irma in the hours ahead.

Santiago province has opened 125 evacuation centers that can hold 38,000 people. Another 20,000 people can take refuge with neighbors and family in safer zones.

Civil Defense representative Odesa Fuentes said the centers will be open for the duration of the storm's passage on Friday.

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1:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump says "we are with the people of Florida" as Hurricane Irma draws near.

Speaking in the Oval Office on Thursday, Trump says his administration is "very concerned" as the record hurricane approaches the U.S. mainland, but he says "we think we're as well prepared as you can possibly be."

The president says he hopes the storm won't hit Florida directly.

He says, "We are with the people of Florida."

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1:10 p.m.

As NASA secured Kennedy Space Center on Thursday for potentially catastrophic wind and rain, the private SpaceX company squeezed out a rocket launch.

Kennedy is closing its doors to all nonessential staff, effective Friday. Of 9,000 workers, a hurricane crew of 120 people will ride out Irma on site.

Most critical buildings can withstand gusts up to about 135 mph (217 kph), but Irma's winds could well exceed that if the storm's center reaches Cape Canaveral.

Space center workers rushed to stack sandbags at doorways and cover the Orion capsule scheduled to launch in two years on a brand new NASA rocket.

Meanwhile, SpaceX managed to launch an unmanned Falcon rocket carrying an Air Force minishuttle bound for a long experimental flight in orbit.

1 p.m.

Georgia's governor has ordered a mandatory evacuation starting on Saturday from the state's Atlantic coast ahead of Hurricane Irma. That includes the city of Savannah.

Gov. Nathan Deal issued the evacuation Thursday for all areas east of Interstate 95, all of Chatham County and some areas west of the interstate. He also expanded a state of emergency to 30 counties.

Deal's order authorizes about 5,000 Georgia National Guard members to be on active duty to help people respond and recover.

Georgia hasn't been hit by a hurricane with winds Category 3 or higher since 1898.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, also declared a state of emergency. A major strike there would be the first in nearly 28 years.

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12:50 p.m.

U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp says they're getting badly needed federal help after Hurricane Irma significantly damaged St. Thomas and St. John with top winds of 150 mph for more than four hours. Fire and police stations collapsed and the main hospital in St. Thomas sustained heavy damage.

Mapp told The Associated Press Thursday authorities are distributing emergency food and water, tarps and other supplies, and evacuating hospital patients to Puerto Rico and elsewhere. A curfew remains in effect, including about 5,000 tourists.

And the governor is knocking down false reports that the government is confiscating firearms. He says that's a misunderstanding of standard language used to activate the National Guard. He says he's got hospitals breached, homes with roofs gone and police and fire stations that are blown away - he's not interested in anybody's firearms.

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12:40 p.m.

There have been very few cyclones stronger than Hurricane Irma. And there have been some that lasted longer. But no other storm in recorded history has maintained top winds of 185 p.m. for 37 hours.

Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach says that breaks the previous record, held by Typhoon Haiyan, which had similar top winds for 24 hours before it hit the Philippines and killed 6,000 people in 2013.

Irma also has been the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record outside the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, measured by its barometric pressure of 914 millibars.

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12:30 p.m.

Gov. Rick Scott is urging all gas stations in Florida to stay open as long as possible to accommodate evacuees.

Scott even announced at his midday Thursday news conference that police escorts will get gas station employees out safely if necessary just ahead of Hurricane Irma.

He says authorities are already escorting fuel tankers through traffic and to gas stations as quickly as possible.

Scott says all of the state's ports are still operating, bringing in fuel and supplies.

He urged residents to take only as much gas as they need to make sure there is enough for everyone who needs it.

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12:15 p.m.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says four people are confirmed dead and about 50 injured on the Caribbean island of St. Martin in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

The prime minister said one person faces life-threatening injuries and two others were in serious condition.

The death toll was lower than one given earlier Thursday by France's interior minister, who said eight people had been killed on French Caribbean territories.

Philippe said four bodies have been found on St. Martin and are being identified. The island is part French, part Dutch, and Dutch authorities have not reported any casualties.

An official in Philippe's office said only four people are currently confirmed dead so far after a re-evaluation of the damage Wednesday. The official said the toll could rise as rescuers reach the scene. Philippe says large amounts of aid and equipment are en route to St. Martin and nearby St. Barts.



 

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