Hurricane Irma, one of the most forceful Atlantic storms of the century, has been churning across the Atlantic Ocean on a collision course with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, bearing down on the northern Caribbean with a devastating mix of fierce winds, surf and rain.
The eye of Irma, a Category 5 storm packing winds of 295 km per hour was expected to sweep through the northern Leeward Islands, east of Puerto Rico en route to a Florida landfall on Saturday (September 9), the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami reported.
The threat posed to the US mainland by Irma, described by NHC forecasters as a “potentially catastrophic” storm, loomed as Texas and Louisiana continued to reel from widespread destructive flooding from Hurricane Harvey.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday approved pre-landfall emergency declarations for Florida and the US territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, mobilising federal disaster relief efforts in all three jurisdictions ahead of Irma’s arrival, the White House said.
Hurricane warnings, the highest level of NHC alerts, were posted for several of the Leeward Islands, including Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, as well as for the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the Hurricane Center said, warning that Irma “will bring life-threatening wind, storm surge and rainfall hazards” to those islands.
Along the beachfront of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, work crews scrambled to cover windows with plywood and corrugated metal shutters along Avenida Ashford, a stretch of restaurants, hotels and six-story apartments.