Hurricane Jose moves away from Leeward Islands, fears recede

Sept 9 (Reuters) - The powerful Hurricane Jose was moving away from the northern Leeward Islands on Saturday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, giving some relief to the Caribbean archipelago battered by the massive storm Irma earlier this week.

Islands such as Barbuda, Saint Martin and Anguilla suffered major damage when Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, tore through them, killing at least eight on Saint Martin alone, and islanders had waited anxiously for news of Jose.

However, by 2 p.m. eastern time, Jose, a Category 4 storm, was 95 miles (155 km) east north-east of the northern Leeward Islands and moving away from them. All hurricane warnings had been downgraded to lesser alerts, the NHC said.

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Hurricane Irma, downgraded to a tropical storm on Monday, is shown over Florida, along with Hurricane Jose (R) making a looping path in the western Atlantic Ocean in this NASA GOES satellite image taken at 1600 EDT (2000 GMT) on September 11, 2017. Courtesy NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Jose (R) and Hurricane Katia (L) are pictured in the Atlantic Ocean in this September 7, 2017 NOAA satellite handout photo. NOAA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Hurricane Irma (L) and Hurricane Jose are pictured in the Atlantic Ocean in this September 7, 2017 NOAA satellite handout photo. NOAA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
NARRAGANSETT, RI - SEPTEMBER 18: Sonny Sopollec of Holland, MA body surfs on waves caused by Hurricane Jose at Point Judith Lighthouse in Narragansett, RI on Sep. 18, 2017. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NARRAGANSETT, RI - SEPTEMBER 18: A surfer rides a wave caused by Hurricane Jose at Point Judith Lighthouse in Narragansett, RI on Sep. 18, 2017. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NARRAGANSETT, RI - SEPTEMBER 18: A surfer rides a wave caused by Hurricane Jose at Point Judith Lighthouse in Narragansett, RI on Sep. 18, 2017. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NARRAGANSETT, RI - SEPTEMBER 18: Waves caused by Hurricane Jose crash into the jetty wall as a photographer tries to take a picture at Point Judith Lighthouse in Narragansett, RI on Sep. 18, 2017. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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Garfield Burford, director of news at government-owned broadcaster ABS TV and Radio in Antigua and Barbuda, said the nation breathed a "collective sigh of relief" once word filtered out that Jose would not plow directly into Barbuda.

The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, described Barbuda as "barely habitable" after Irma slammed into the island with 185 m/p/h (297 km/p/h) winds, destroying homes, snapping trees and killing at least one person there.

"Barbuda is almost like the poster child of the kind of devastation Irma caused," said Burford at ABS.

The government ordered a mandatory evacuation of Barbuda, with only about ten people refusing to leave, Burford added.

According to the NHC's forecasts, Jose is due to weaken gradually as it heads northwest into Atlantic waters away from land, and should eventually peter out toward mid-week. (Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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