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Category 5 Hurricane Irma Brings 175-MPH Winds To Bear On Caribbean Islands

Irma is predicted to remain a major hurricane as it makes its way west toward the U.S. mainland's coast.

“Hurricane Irma has intensified into an extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane,” the National Hurricane Center says, citing the latest data from NOAA and Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft.

With maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, Irma is a category 5 — the most serious type of major hurricane on the Saffir-Sampson wind scale. Over the next 12 hours, it’s likely to get even stronger, at 180 mph, the U.S. hurricane agency says.

Storm preparations are being rushed to completion in the Leeward Islands, where the first tropical-storm force winds could arrive later Tuesday. Irma is currently forecast to hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday before continuing on toward Cuba.

While it’s still too early to say where Irma might have the most impact on the continental United States, the hurricane center says, “There is an increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys later this week and this weekend.”

Irma is predicted to maintain winds of at least 150 mph for the next five days.

The storm is moving westward at 14 mph, forcing hurricane warnings to be issued for a string of Caribbean islands:

  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra
  • Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, and Nevis
  • Saba, St. Eustatius, and Sint Maarten
  • Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy
  • British Virgin Islands

Category 5 status means “catastrophic” damage will occur on lands touched by the hurricane — which is currently predicted to remain a major hurricane as it makes its way west toward the U.S. coast.

As the storm’s track has become more defined, the governors of Florida and Puerto Rico declared preemptive states of emergency.

As NPR’s Scott Neuman reported:

” ‘We have established protocols for the safety of all,’ Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said, urging islanders to take precautions.

“Rossello said 4 to 8 inches of rain were expected, with wind gusts up to 60 mph.

“A few hours later, Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in all 67 counties in the state.”

Here’s how the hurricane center describes the damage that could result from a category 5 hurricane:

“A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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