At least seven people have died as Hurricane Irma ravaged the Caribbean this week, destroying buildings and uprooting trees on its potentially catastrophic path toward Florida.
The Category 5 storm — the most potent Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever — did “severe and in places critical” damage already to the island of Anguilla, according to the United Kingdom. It also ripped through the islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy and blacked out much of Puerto Rico.
By Thursday afternoon, the hurricane was north of the Dominican Republic, where authorities reported some flooding and the evacuation of several thousand locals and tourists but no serious damage or casualties.
The National Hurricane Center has warned that the hurricane is increasingly likely to slam into Florida later this week — as Texas and Louisiana cope with the devastating aftermath caused by Hurricane Harvey.
"Everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place," officials said.
Here's what you should know about Hurricane Irma and its trajectory.
Where is Hurricane Irma today? Hurricane Irma is located about 55 miles west-southwest of Grand Turk Island in the Turks and Caicos, and about 90 miles east of Great Inagua Island in the Bahamas, the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 p.m. ET advisory. The storm is headed west-northwest at 16 mph with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, and is currently "pummeling" Turks and Caicos.
When is it expected to make landfall? Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday that the Florida Keys may feel Irma's effects Friday night. Forecasters have said that the storm could travel up through Georgia and South Carolina as well. President Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said four people were confirmed dead and about 50 injured on the French side of St. Martin, an island split between Dutch and French control. The toll could rise because rescue teams had yet to get a complete look at the damage.
Three more deaths were reported on the British island of Anguilla, independent Barbuda, and the Dutch side of St. Martin.
What else should I know about the storm? Hurricane Irma was classified as a Category 5 storm and is now a Category 4, but it's still very dangerous. It brings with it life-threatening winds, storm surges and rainfall, according to the National Hurricane Center.
It predicted Irma would stay at Category 4 or 5 as it passed just to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, neared the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night, and skirted Cuba on Friday night into Saturday.
Residents on the U.S. East Coast were urged to monitor the storm's progress in case it should turn northward toward Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas.
"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 (Hurricane) Harvey, " Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, said in a statement.
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