Hurricane Irma passed over the islands of Antigua and Barbuda during the early morning hours on Wednesday and is currently mowing over the Virgin Islands as it takes direct aim at Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, on the mainland, Floridians are preparing for the worst as they face what’s being called a record-breaking storm.
The monster storm maintained winds of 185 mph — with gusts topping 200 mph — even as it made landfall in Barbuda at about 2 a.m. on Wednesday. The storm was moving west-northwest at around 15 mph with St. Martin in its crosshairs as of 5 a.m. on Wednesday. (See video below.)
As of Wednesday’s 5 a.m. update from the National Weather Service, the hurricane’s path is currently forecast to ride up the middle of Florida, keeping the worst side of the storm in the Atlantic Ocean. But other predictions say it could move east of Florida and make landfall near Georgia or the Carolinas.
Irma is the strongest hurricane ever in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. But the storm is closing in on the record set by Hurricane Allen in 1980, which reached maximum sustained winds of 190 mph.
Described by the NWS as a “potentially catastrophic” storm, Irma is expected to skirt the northern parts of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba throughout the next three days. New hurricane warnings were issued for the Bahamas, Turks, and Caicos on Wednesday morning, with the storm expected to move over Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon.
Irma is expected to make landfall in south Florida on Sunday afternoon. The shifting projections of the storm, as of 5 a.m. on Wednesday, show Irma could travel up the middle of Florida and even possibly to the east.
So-called “spaghetti models,” which project possible paths for the storm, show Irma could threaten the Carolinas and East Coast of the United States.
Mandatory evacuations have already been ordered for Monroe County, which covers the Florida Keys. Evacuations for visitors is required, beginning Wednesday morning; residents must evacuate starting Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The Florida Keys are under a mandatory evacuation, and Naval Air Station Key West, with its 5,500 personnel and families, was also evacuated, starting Tuesday night.
So far, there are no other mandatory evacuations in Florida, but officials in Miami-Dade County have advised residents in low-lying areas, including Miami Beach, to begin evacuating on Wednesday.
North and east portions of Puerto Rico, which Gov. Ricardo Rossello called most flood prone, were ordered evacuated, as well.
Gas shortages have forced some Floridians to stay put, inspiring the hashtag #nogas on social media Tuesday. Long lines formed all over the state, and it’s being reported that stations in the Tampa area have run out.
Then, there’s Tropical Storm Jose, following behind Irma on a similar path. Jose officially became a tropical storm on Tuesday before noon with winds of 40 mph.
Jose is expected to become a Category 2 hurricane by the end of the week. The storm could skirt the most northeastern Caribbean islands, but so far, it is not projected as a threat to Puerto Rico or the United States.
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