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‘Potentially Catastrophic’ Hurricane Irma Hits Caribbean Islands

A picture taken on Sept. 5, 2017 shows a view of the Baie Nettle beach in Marigot, with the wind blowing ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma. (Photo Courtesy: AFP)

Hurricane Irma continued to batter the Caribbean islands early Wednesday, unleashing its Category 5 winds, life-threatening storm surges, and dangerous flooding.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the eye of the “potentially catastrophic” storm packed sustained winds of 295 kilometers per hour as it churned over St. Martin and Anguilla.

Forecasters predicted the “extremely dangerous core” of the hurricane will also move over parts of the northern Virgin Islands. Irma was expected to pass near Puerto Rico Wednesday by nightfall and brush the coast of the Dominican Republic on Thursday.

Irma was traveling west-northwest at 26 kilometers per hour and the NHC said the storm is expected to generally continue in that direction for the next couple of days.

Predicting the hurricane’s path later in the week is more difficult, but hurricane warnings have been posted for the Dominican Republic, the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, while watches are in place for Haiti and Cuba. Irma is expected to remain a powerful Category 4 or 5 storm during the next few days.

“It’s the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico in its line of fire and then we go into the Dominican Republic and Haiti,” National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen told VOA. “Then we’re looking at the Bahamas, northern coast of Cuba, and eventually portions of south Florida. There’s an awful lot of real estate in front of Irma.”

A member of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) monitors the trajectory of Hurricane Irma in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sept. 5, 2017. (Photo Courtesy: Reuters)

Early Wednesday, Irma had sustained winds of 295 kilometers per hour, placing it among the strongest Atlantic hurricanes in history.

Feltgen said there are very few things that can withstand winds that strong, meaning Irma has the potential to cause “catastrophic damage.”

Forecasters said the hurricane could also bring storm surges of two to six meters to the islands along its path, as well as rainfall of 20 to 30 centimeters with isolated areas getting as much as 50 centimeters. The result could be life-threatening flooding and mudslides.

People buy materials at a hardware store after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Sept. 4, 2017. (Photo Courtesy: Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump has declared states of emergency in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida, and has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to begin relief efforts.

In a Wednesday tweet, Trump said the federal government is poised to provide rescue and relief efforts in response to Irma.

“Watching Hurricane closely,” Trump wrote in a Wednesday morning Tweet. “My team, which has done, and is doing, such a good job in Texas, is already in Florida. No rest for the weary,” he added.

Irma’s forecast track shows the storm hitting or passing close to the U.S. state of Florida as a major hurricane some time around Sunday. But uncertainty in predicting a hurricane’s movements that far in advance leaves the potential for it to shift, with eastward movement putting the Bahamas more at risk, while a more westward track would shift the risk of landfall from south Florida to the state’s panhandle.

A shopper in Sedano’s Supermarket looks at nearly empty water shelves in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida, Sept. 5, 2017. Residents are preparing for the approach of Hurricane Irma. (Photo Courtesy: Reuters)

Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency for all of Florida and ordered tourists to leave the Florida Keys island chain.

A catastrophic strike on Florida would add to the challenges faced by FEMA, which is already helping parts of southeast Texas clean up and repair damage from Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm that hit August 25 and dropped a record amount of rain. | via Voice of America

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