As Hurricane Irma barreled toward the Caribbean on Tuesday — on a path that could send the Category 5 megastorm toward Florida — people up and down the state were starting to prepare for the worst.
“If there is an evacuation order in your area, please follow it,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday. “We can rebuild your home but we cannot rebuild your life.”
The hurricane packed maximum sustained winds of 185 mph late Tuesday afternoon and was traveling west at 15 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center reported in its 5 p.m. ET advisory. The storm was roaring toward the Leeward Islands. Irma’s center was about 130 miles east of Antigua and approximately 135 miles east-southeast of Barbuda, the advisory said.
Forecasters warned the Florida Keys are especially at risk for possible damage. “People who are living (in the Florida Keys) or have property there are very scared, and they should be,” MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel said.
Hurricane Allen hit 190 mph in 1980, a record for modern-day storms, while 2005’s Wilma, 1988’s Gilbert and a 1935 storm hitting the Florida Keys all had 185 mph winds.
Florida was in a state of emergency on Tuesday. At immediate risk were the small islands of the northern Leewards, along with the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
“Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days,” the National Hurricane Center warned.