Hurricane Irma has strengthened to a Category 5 storm as it makes its way across the Caribbean on a path that is expected to collide with the United States, with officials describing the brewing storm as “extremely dangerous” and recorded maximum sustained winds reaching a staggering 175 mph.
The hurricane is expected to begin pounding northeastern Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico as early as Wednesday before continuing toward the US mainland near Florida, the National Hurricane Center projected.
On Tuesday morning, Hurricane Irma was rolling across the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean about 270 miles east of Antigua and Barbuda and quickly moving west. Its maximum sustained winds of 175 mph placed it well above the 157-mph mark needed to obtain Category 5 classification. It is expected to reach the Lesser Antilles by late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
“We could see storm surges of 7 to 1 feet – that’s certainly life threatening – and very, very heavy flooding rainfall,” as well as catastrophic winds near the hurricane’s eye wall, National Hurricane Center spokesman Michael Brennan said.
Hurricane Irma may weaken to a Category 4 storm as it reaches the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba late Friday evening before turning northward toward Florida, where residents are already stocking up on emergency supplies and making preparations to evacuate.
“In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott in a statement, noting that President Donald Trump “offered the full resources of the federal government as Floridians prepare for Hurricane Irma.”