Hurricane Irma strengthens to Category 5 storm; track puts it on path to Caribbean, perhaps Florida

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Irma strengthened into a Category 5 storm early Tuesday as it roared toward the northeast Caribbean on a path toward the U.S.

Irma’s maximum sustained winds increased to 175 mph early Tuesday. It was centered about 270 miles east of Antigua and moving west at 14 mph.

States of emergency were declared in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and all of Florida while people on various Caribbean islands boarded up homes and rushed to find last-minute supplies, forming long lines outside supermarkets and gas stations.

Authorities warned that the storm could dump up to a foot of rain, cause landslides and dangerous flash floods and generate waves of up to 23 feet.

Hurricane Irma’s forecast track as of 5 a.m. on September 5, 2017; the “M” stands for major hurricane

National Hurricane Center

“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 storm’s center was expected to move near or over the northern Leeward Islands late Tuesday and early Wednesday, the hurricane center said.

American Airlines added extra flights out of Caribbean islands St. Maarten and St. Kitts and Nevis to get people out of Irma’s path. The islands are under a hurricane warning. American says it expects to make additional flight changes as it monitors the storm.

Residents on the U.S. East Coast were urged to monitor the storm’s progress due to the possibility it could turn northward toward Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas.

“This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of (Hurricane) Harvey,” Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, said in a statement.

In Miami-Dade County, the early scramble was on to stock up on hurricane supplies, reports CBS Miami.

People were shopping for gasoline, generators, food, batteries and everything else they’d need to get by were Irma to hit the region hard.

“We are not yet at the height of hurricane season and people have not taken steps to get prepared yet,” Miami-Dade County Emergency Management…

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