Hurricane Irma: Caribbean braces for ‘extremely dangerous’ storm
[BBC] – Hurricane Irma has been upgraded to a category five – the highest category – making it “extremely dangerous” as it crosses the Caribbean.
It has sustained winds of up to 280km/h (175mph), the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, advising islands in its path to speed up preparations. It is projected to bring storm surges, life-threatening winds and torrential rainfall to the Leeward Islands.
Florida, where it is due to arrive on Sunday, has declared an emergency. Residents in two other US states, Texas and Louisiana, are reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, which struck as a category four storm, causing heavy rain and destroying thousands of homes.
However the NHC warned that it was too early to forecast Irma’s exact path or effects on the continental US. Irma, which has been moving at a speed of 22km/h (14mph), is set to reach the Leeward Islands, east of Puerto Rico, within the next 24 hours, the centre added.
It issued a hurricane warning for the following islands:
- Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis
- Saba, St Eustatius and Sint Maarten
- Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy
- The British Virgin Islands
- The US Virgin Islands
- Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra
Guadeloupe and the Dominican Republic, which borders Haiti, are on hurricane watch. Rainfall of up to 30cm (12in) may occur in some northern areas and water levels may rise by up to 3.8m (12ft) above normal levels, the NHC said.
Puerto Rico has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. Governor Ricardo Rossello announced the opening of emergency shelters able to house up to 62,000 people, and schools would be closed on Tuesday.
Long queues of people formed in shops, with residents stocking up on water, food, batteries, generators and other supplies.
On St Martin, a woman in a supermarket told AFP news agency: “I [am] getting some stuff for the hurricane, because the hurricane is coming direct on us. They say that it’s coming on us so then I start to pick up truly the things what I need.”
The supermarket manager added: “People have been buying a lot in preparation for the arrival of the hurricane.
“Lots of canned food, cooked dishes, canned fish, paper towels, cleaning products, cakes, lots of cakes, and water, of course.”
In Florida, Governor Rick Scott said he had been assured by US President Donald Trump that “the full resources of the federal government” would be made available as the state prepared for the storm.