Hurricane Irma skirted north of the Dominican Republic early Thursday as the powerful Category 5 storm set its sights on south Florida after leaving a trail of death and destruction in the Caribbean. At least 13 people have been killed.
Irma, dubbed the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade, had maximum sustained winds of 180 mph early Thursday morning as it moved away from the northern coast of Puerto Rico and over the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The wind speeds were down slightly from the day before, but only by 5 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
“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 Weather Service said in its advisory.
As of 8 a.m., Irma was about 110 miles north of Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, and moving west-northwest as it raced toward Turks and Caicos. The storm is expected to pound the Turks and Caicos archipelago southeast of the Bahamas in the evening. Storm surge could be up to 5 feet high on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and up to 20 feet on Turks and Caicos.
Much of Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas could get 8 to 12 inches of rain, with as much as 20 inches in isolated spots through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
Millions of children in Haiti and the Dominican Republic are at risk, according to Save the Children organization.
“Deadly storms have a bias against children. Storms often leave a lasting impact on young minds. Relief efforts should prioritize children – their needs, their emotional well-being,” Unni Krishnan, director of Save the Children’s emergency health unit, said in a statement Thursday.
The National Weather Service projects Irma will be near the central Bahamas by Friday and then make landfall in south Florida, near Miami, on Sunday morning as a Category 4 hurricane, bringing high winds, abundant rainfall and potentially dangerous storm surge.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who declared a statewide emergency earlier this week, has warned that the “massive storm” could be more treacherous than Hurricane Andrew, which devastated the Sunshine State 25 years ago.