‘Potentially catastrophic’ Irma barrels toward Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Highly dangerous Category 5 Hurricane Irma rolled toward the Caribbean and southern United States, packing winds of 185 miles per hour (295 km per hour) on Tuesday, even as Texas and Louisiana still reeled from devastating Hurricane Harvey.

Irma’s eye was forecast to cross the northern Leeward Islands, east of Puerto Rico, on Tuesday night or early Wednesday, and hurricane warnings were in place from there to the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in a statement.

The NHC called Irma a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 hurricane and tweeted that it was “the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic (Ocean) outside the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in NHC records.” Category 5 is the highest NHC designation.

“Preparations should be rushed to completion in the hurricane warning area,” the NHC said.

Irma was about 185 miles (295 km) east-southeast of Barbuda in the eastern Caribbean and moving west at about 14 mph (22 kph), according to the NHC. Maximum sustained winds were 185 mph (295 kph), with hurricane-force winds extending 60 miles (96 km) from the eye.

Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello urged the 3.4 million residents of the U.S. territory to seek refuge in one of 460 hurricane shelters before the storm is expected to hit as early as Tuesday night.

“This is something without precedent,” Rossello told a news conference. He will ask U.S. President Donald Trump to declare a federal state of emergency even before the storm passes to allow disbursement of U.S. emergency funds.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency, and said on Tuesday he also asked Trump to make a “pre-landfall” emergency declaration.

Workers put boats on dry docks in preparation, as Hurricane Irma, barreling towards the Caribbean and the southern United States, was upgraded to a Category 4 storm, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Irma is expected to reach southern Florida on Saturday, and shares in insurance companies with exposure in the state tumbled in Tuesday trading.

“TODAY I‘M NERVOUS”

Gary Randall, head of the Blue Waters Resort on Antigua’s north coast, said the staff had boarded up windows, stripped trees of coconuts and fronds and secured anything that could become a hazard.

“I wasn’t that nervous yesterday, but today I‘m nervous,” Randall said by telephone, adding that he expected the…

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