Hurricane Irma: What we know now
Hurricane Irma is spinning angrily in the Atlantic Ocean, a Category 5 monster with sustained winds of 185 mph roaring west toward islands in the northern Caribbean and, possibly, Florida. The storm is one of the strongest ever in the Atlantic.
Here is what we know about Irma right now:
Irma is an "extremely dangerous" storm likely to see some fluctuations in intensity over the next 48 hours, the National Weather Service says. Irma will remain a powerful Category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 60 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extending 160 miles.
The storm is heading west, and could roll across the Leeward Islands, Antigua and nearby islands later Tuesday. The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico could take a hit Wednesday. After that, the forecast becomes less firm, but the storm has South Florida in its sights. Forecasters say that by early next week Florida, Georgia and/or the Carolinas could see Irma's wrath, depending on where Irma tracks. The storm could even sweep into the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
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If Irma slams into the U.S. as a Category 5 hurricane, it wouldn't be the first. Hurricane Andrew roared into South Florida 25 years ago, a fast-moving, tightly-wound hurricane that leveled entire neighborhoods, tossed cars, boats and mobile homes like small toys and left millions without power. The storm destroyed more than 25,000 homes and damaged 100,000 others. Fifteen people were killed directly by Andrew, and another 25 died in the hard weeks that followed. When a Category 5 hurricane hits land, "a high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed," the National Hurricane Center warns, adding power could be lost in some areas for "weeks and possible months."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello declared a states of emergencies Monday. Rossello on Tuesday met with mayors, National Guard leaders and emergency officials on the island. He issued a list of shelters and urged residents in high-risk areas to evacuate. He spoke by phone with White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly and with FEMA administrator Brock Long. FEMA tweeted a photo of a warehouse loaded with bottled water and other supplies "if needed."
Scott executed his state of emergency across all 67 counties and ordered all 7,000 of the state's National Guard members to report for duty Friday. He reached out to FEMA for food, water and tarps. Monroe County, home of the Florida Keys, closed schools and government offices starting Wednesday and said evacuations will begin Wednesday morning. Miami-Dade County closed schools and offices starting Thursday and urged tourists to leave the area as soon as possible.
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Some of the islands in Irma's path are major tourism draws, and the scramble to reroute tourists is on. Cruise lines are taking steps, with Carnival saying four of its ships are rerouting to avoid the Eastern Caribbean and Irma. The Royal Caribbean's 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas, one of the world's largest cruise ships, also announced a re-route. Some airlines have begun waiving change fees to Caribbean destinations, and the program could be expanded to the U.S. mainland in coming days.