Florida Gov. Rick Scott declares state of emergency ahead of Category 4 Hurricane Irma

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Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma Strengthens to Category 5 Storm as Florida Prepares

Hurricane Irma strengthened Tuesday morning to a Category 5 as it churned toward the Caribbean amid storm warnings, watches and states of emergency in Florida and Puerto Rico — and was expected to near land later in the day.

With its 175 mph winds, Irma was upgraded to an “extremely dangerous” hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said, and forecasted it could become even more powerful in the next two days ahead of reaching the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Latest on the Storm

  • Destruction begins in the northern Caribbean in less than 24 hours.
  • Puerto Rico’s north shore will be in or very close to Irma’s hurricane winds.
  • Florida’s fate largely depends on if Cuba weakens Irma first.
  • All signs point to major or historic hurricane impact in South Florida this weekend.

Irma “is moving into waters that are warmer and [are] a very favorable environment for even further development,” said Heather Tesch, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel.

The storm, which was about 270 miles east of the island of Antigua as of 8 a.m. ET Tuesday, is expected to produce total rainfall of 4 to 8 inches with up to a foot in parts of the northern Leeward Islands, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, the hurricane center said. It also warned of potential life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

Late Monday, the center upgraded the advisories for Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands from hurricane watches to warnings, indicating a hit from Irma is not just possible, but expected.

“This is not an opportunity to go outside and try to have fun with a hurricane,” U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp warned. “It’s not time to get on a surfboard.”

The hurricane center said Irma could also sweep across Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos, and Florida later in the week.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency on Monday, activating the National Guard, canceling schools and freeing up $15 million in emergency funds for the financially troubled island, his office said in a statement.

The director of the Puerto Rico’s power company predicted that storm damage could leave some areas without electricity for four to six months. But “some areas will have power (back) in less than a week,” Ricardo Ramos told radio station Notiuno 630 AM. The utility’s infrastructure has deteriorated greatly during a decade-long recession, and Puerto Ricans experienced an island wide outage last year.

In Florida, where Tesch said the storm could land later in the week, Gov. Rick Scott said late Sunday that President Donald Trump offered the government’s full support as the state readies itself.

Earlier, Scott declared a state of emergency, saying it was necessary for local governments to prepare immediately.

“Current forecast models have Florida in Irma’s path — potentially impacting millions of Floridians,” he said in a statement. “While the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared.”

Residents appeared to be listening.

Images posted to social media from Naples, in south Florida, and Temple Terrace, outside Tampa, showed bare store shelves.

“There’s a drought in the water aisle and Home Depot is packed,” NBC Miami reporter Ari Odzer joked on Twitter.

At a Home Depot in Royal Palm Beach, a sign alerted shoppers that it was short on wing nuts and 5-gallon jugs for gasoline and water.

A shopper there, David Graham, recalled Hurricane Harvey, the powerful storm that struck Texas’ Gulf Coast late last month. Tens of thousands of people fled to shelters, and thousands more were rescued. Forty-eight deaths have been attributed to Harvey so far across six Texas counties.

“People are being more vigilant, I guess,” Graham told NBC affiliate WPTV of West Palm Beach.

Another shopper, Bianca Rodriguez, told the station that she’d earlier gone to Walmart, where was “nothing” — “not even, like, one thing of water,” she said. So she went to Winn-Dixie instead, where she found the cases of water she’d been searching for.

“I lucked out,” she said.

[ Source: foxnews ]

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