Hurricane Irma strengthened into a dangerous Category 5 storm Tuesday as it roared toward the northeast Caribbean on a path that could take it to the United States.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Irma had sustained winds of 175 mph and was centered about 270 miles east of Antigua. It was moving west at 14 mph.
A hurricane warning was posted for Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and St. Barts, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. A tropical storm warning was in effect for Guadeloupe and Dominica.
The hurricane center said there was a growing possibility that the storm’s effects could be felt in Florida later this week and over the weekend, though it was still too early to be sure of its future track: “Everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place.”
Irma’s center was expected to move near or over the northern Leeward Islands late Tuesday and early Wednesday, the hurricane center said. The eye was then expected to pass about 50 miles from Puerto Rico late Wednesday.
Authorities warned that the storm could dump up to 10 inches of rain, cause landslides and flash floods and generate waves of up to 23 feet. Government officials began evacuations and urged people to finalize all preparations as shelves emptied out across islands including Puerto Rico.
“The decisions that we make in the next couple of hours can make the difference between life and death,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. “This is an extremely dangerous storm.”
Residents on the U.S. East Coast were urged to monitor the storm’s progress in case it should turn northward toward Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas.
“This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of Harvey,” Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, said in a statement.
Cruise lines have changed multiple itineraries to move cruises out of the projected path of Hurricane Irma, currently approaching the Lesser Antilles.
The most common change is to convert an eastern Caribbean itinerary into a western Caribbean cruise. On its sailing that departed Sunday, for example, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas will call at Cozumel, Falmouth and Labadee instead of Nassau, San Juan and St Maarten as originally scheduled.
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