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Hurricane Irma: What we know now

Hurricane Irma is spinning angrily in the Atlantic Ocean, a Category 5 monster with sustained winds of 180 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 a mighty storm

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.

Irma’s path: Florida could be slammed

The storm is heading west, and could roll across the Leeward Islands, Antigua and nearby islands nearby 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.

Damage could be catastrophic

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.”

Preparations are underway

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. The state has more than 300 truckloads of water and 1 million meals at the state Logistics Response Center in Orlando. “Given the size of the population threatened by Hurricane Irma, however, the state will need additional emergency supplies,” Scott wrote. He also urged families to stock emergency kits and develop disaster plans.

Travel, tourism making adjustments

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.

Contributing: Doyle Rice, Alan Gomez, Gene Sloan and Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY; Arek Sarkissian, Naples Daily News


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