Hurricane Irma strengthened into a powerful Category 4 storm on Monday forcing Florida to be declared a state of emergency.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared the state of emergency for all 67 counties in the state on Monday after some forecasts showed the powerful storm could be headed for the East Coast.
Meteorologists had earlier predicted the storm posed a ‘serious threat’ to the US.
‘Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared. I have continued to be briefed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management on Hurricane Irma and current forecast models have Florida in Irma’s path – potentially impacting millions of Floridians,’ Scott said.
‘Today, given these forecasts and the intensity of this storm, I have declared a state of emergency for every county in Florida to make certain that state, federal and local governments are able to work together and make sure resources are dispersed to local communities as we get prepared for this storm.’
Irma grew into a Category 4 storm on Monday as it approached the northeastern Caribbean with winds of 140 mph. In comparison, Hurricane Harvey had winds of 130 mph when it made landfall in Texas last week.
It is forecast to begin buffeting the region on Tuesday and the US National Hurricane Center said additional strengthening was expected.
Emergency officials warned that the storm could dump up to 10 inches of rain, unleash landslides and dangerous flash floods and generate waves of up to 23 feet as the storm drew closer.
Hurricane watches were posted on Sunday for parts of the Caribbean including Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Monserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Martin, Guadeloupe and the British Virgin Islands.
The US National Hurricane Center said the center of the storm could near that region late Tuesday and that islands farther north, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, should monitor the progress of the storm and be prepared for Irma possibly to head their direction.
‘Irma is a serious threat for the Caribbean islands and United States,’ AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said.
It is still unclear what path Irma will take as it inches closer to the US.
Right now, meteorologists believe there are about three paths the storm could take.
It could move out into the Atlantic and completely bi-pass the US, it could hit the Carolina’s or it could go south and graze Cuba before hitting the Gulf of Mexico, around the Florida panhandle.
‘This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of Harvey,’ Evan Myers, Expert Senior Meteorologist and Chief Operating Officer said.
If it does hit the U.S., it won’t be until this weekend, but residents in the southern U.S. shouldn’t waste time getting an emergency plan together.
‘As we saw just 10 days ago with Harvey, it is important to be ready to evacuate and be prepared with at a minimum, a list of items you would take if you had 30 minute notice or 1 hours notice of 6 hours or a day to evacuate,’ Myers said.
Meanwhile, government workers on the islands of the eastern Caribbean are clearing drains and pruning trees ahead of Irma.
The Antigua and Barbuda weather service said Irma was expected to bring heavy rains, rough surf and high winds.
Antigua’s prime minister, Gaston Browne, urged people to take preventative measures in case the storm should keep on its current arc, saying that should include cleaning drains and removing objects that could be sent flying by high winds. Workers began pruning trees and shrubs to reduce chances for branches to tear down power and phone lines.
‘The passage of a hurricane is not a matter to be taken lightly, but we must not panic,’ Browne said in a statement.
The U.S. hurricane center said Irma had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph Sunday night and some strengthening was expected over the next 48 hours. The storm was centered about 710 miles east of the Leeward Islands and moving west-southwest at 14 mph.
Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricard Rossello, said government agencies in the U.S. territory were prepared to deal with any emergencies caused by the storm.
‘We have established protocols for the safety of all,’ he said at a news conference, while he also urged islanders to take precautions.
In the Dominican Republic, Public Works Minister Gonzalo Castillo said workers there were clearing away road works and also cleaning out blockages of sewer drains. He said President Danilo Medina would hold a meeting with emergencies agencies Monday to discuss storm preparations.