The winds of Hurricane Irma grew stronger on Tuesday, reaching 185 miles per hour and making it the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic outside the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. The Category 5 hurricane—classified as “extremely dangerous”—is currently headed towards the Caribbean and while the exact course is not known, computer models show it making landfall in South Florida by the weekend.
That puts the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, and Cuba along Irma’s expected path before it reaches Florida; Antigua and Barbuda could get hit as early as Tuesday night.
Irma’s current strength means areas in the hurricane’s path could be hit with “potentially catastrophic” force and it’s expected to maintain Category 4 or 5 strength for days as it makes its way across the Caribbean. “Anguilla, all the way toward (Antigua and) Barbuda, all the way up even toward the British Virgin Islands (are) in grave danger of an eye wall hit at (at least) 150 mph—that devastates the island, no matter what island it is,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said Tuesday. The Dominican Republic issued a hurricane warning Tuesday evening and the U.S. declared emergencies for Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“[Florida Gov. Rick] Scott warned that although officials don’t know the storm’s exact path, winds are likely to be ‘extreme and life-threatening’ and the impacts could be felt inland, away from the coast,” the Associated Press reports. “In the Florida Keys, a chain of 42 low-lying islands that includes Key West, government officials said visitors would be told to leave Wednesday and residents should be out by the next day.” Public schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties are already closed Thursday and Friday in anticipation of the storm. The NFL cancelled the season opener between the Dolphins and Buccaneers scheduled for Sunday in Miami.