The storm was upgraded to a Category 5, the highest NHC designation. While some fluctuations in intensity are likely, Irma is expected to remain a Category 4 or 5 for the next couple of days. Photograph: (Reuters)
The eye of the storm is packed with terrifying winds speeding at 295 km per hour
After the devastating Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma took over Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and the northern Caribbean.
It is one of the most forceful Atlantic storms in a century--a catastrophic blend of ferocious winds, surf, and life-threatening rain.
The eye of the storm is packed with terrifying winds speeding at 295 km per hour. According to the US National Hurricane Center, Irma was expected to sweep through the northern Leeward Islands, east of Puerto Rico on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, making it to Florida landfall on Saturday.
This comes at a time when Texas and Louisiana still struggle to manage the damage done by Hurricane Harvey. The Category 4 hurricane hit Texas on August 25. An estimated 60 people were killed and more than 1 million were displaced.
According to the White House, President Trump has approved pre-landfall emergency declarations for the alerted areas, deploying federal disaster relief efforts in all jurisdictions ahead of Irma's arrival.
Workers in Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan, hurry to cover windows with plywood and corrugated metal shutters along Avenida Ashford, a stretch of restaurants, hotels and six-story apartments.
"I am worried because this is the biggest storm we have seen here,"Jonathan Negron, 41, told Reuters as he supervised workers boarding up his souvenir shop.
Irma has made tourists reconsider vacation plans.
"I just got off the plane, and I already want to leave. I do not want to be here for this storm," Watkins said. Pointing to boarded-up oceanfront windows, she said, "I see everything covered up like that and it makes me nervous," 52-year-old Denise Watkins from Texas told Reuters.
At 8 pm Eastern Time, Irma was 140 km east of Antigua in the eastern Caribbean and moving west at 24 km per hour. Maximum sustained winds of 185 mph, with hurricane-force winds extending 95 km from the storm's center.
A rare, Category 5 hurricane
The storm was upgraded to a Category 5, the highest NHC designation. While some fluctuations in intensity are likely, Irma is expected to remain a Category 4 or 5 for the next couple of days.
Only three Category 5 storms have ever hit the US. A category 5 Atlantic hurricane encompasses 32 tropical cyclones.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello urged the 3.4 million residents to seek refuge in one of 460 hurricane shelters in advance of the storm. Police has been instructed to evacuate the flood-prone areas in the north and east of the island.
"This is something without precedent," sad Rossello. Police later confirmed that a 75-year-old man died while preparing for the storm in the island's central mountains.
Authorities in the Florida Keys ordered a mandatory evacuation of the island. Public schools throughout South Florida were ordered closed.
Julia Nuñez Rodriguez, a single mother of three who lives north of Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, was most worried about the potentially high death toll. "I'm hoping and praying for the best," she told Reuters.
Flights to the region have been cancelled and American Airlines have added three extra flights to Miami from San Juan, St. Kitts and St. Maarten.
The Atlantic hurricane season ends on November 30.