‘Potentially catastrophic’ Hurricane Irma nears US

Highly dangerous Category 5 Hurricane Irma is rolling towards the Caribbean and southern United States, packing winds of 295 kilometres per hour as Texas and Louisiana still reel from devastating Hurricane Harvey.

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Irma’s eye was forecast to cross the northern Leeward Islands, east of Puerto Rico, on Tuesday night or early Wednesday (local time) , and hurricane warnings were in place from there to the British and US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in a statement.

0:00 View of Hurricane Irma from the International Space Station Share View of Hurricane Irma from the International Space Station

The NHC called Irma a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 hurricane and tweeted that it was “the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic (Ocean) outside the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in NHC records”. Category 5 is the highest NHC designation.

Category 5 #Irma with 185-mph winds- #Hurricane preparations in the NE Leeward Islands should be nearing completion 苏州美甲培训学校,长沙SPA,/tW4KeGdBFb pic.twitter苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/tMhL53YX5I

— NHC Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic) September 5, 2017

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Irma was about 295 km east-southeast of Barbuda in the eastern Caribbean and moving west at about 22 kph, according to the NHC. Maximum sustained winds were 295 kph, with hurricane-force winds extending 96 km from the eye.

Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello urged the 3.4 million residents of the US territory to seek refuge in one of 460 hurricane shelters before the storm is expected to hit as early as Tuesday night.

0:00 Florida Governor urges residents to be prepared for Irma Share Florida Governor urges residents to be prepared for Irma

He will ask US President Donald Trump to declare a federal state of emergency before the storm passes to allow disbursement of US emergency funds.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency, and said on Tuesday he also asked Trump to make a “pre-landfall” emergency declaration.

#Irma key messages for Advisory 26. #Hurricane preparations should be rushed to completion in the NE Caribbean. 苏州美甲培训学校,长沙SPA,/tW4KeGdBFb pic.twitter苏州美甲培训学校按摩论坛,/3OSkumDsdV

— NHC Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic) September 5, 2017

Irma is expected to reach southern Florida on Saturday, and shares in insurance companies with exposure in the state tumbled in Tuesday trading.

Airlines cancelled flights to the region, and American Airlines added three extra flights to Miami from San Juan, St Kitts and St. Maarten.

Residents of Texas and Louisiana were still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, dumping several feet of rain, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, killed an estimated 60 people and displaced more than 1 million others.