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Hurricane Irma Strengthens Into Category 5, and Florida Braces for Possible Landfall

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By MATTHEW HAAG
© 2017 New York Times News Service

Hurricane Irma, fresh on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, strengthened early Tuesday into a Category 5 storm with maximum winds of 175 miles per hour, as Florida started to prepare for its potential landfall over the weekend.

The latest forecasts have Irma on a more direct path toward South Florida, raising the possibility that the United States could be hit with back-to-back major hurricanes. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida declared a state of emergency on Monday for the state’s 67 counties.

“Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm, and Florida must be prepared,” Scott said in a statement. The last hurricane to hit Florida was Matthew last October, which brushed up along its east coast before making landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 storm.

Scott said on Twitter that he had discussed the storm Monday with President Donald Trump, who “offered the full resources of the federal government as Floridians prepare for Hurricane Irma.”

Coast Guard crew members and helicopters that assisted in rescue missions in southeast Texas for Hurricane Harvey were also starting to return to their home stations, including Florida, to prepare for Irma, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

American Airlines announced late Monday that it had canceled several flights on Tuesday between Miami and the Caribbean destinations.

The center of Irma was about 410 miles east of the Leeward Islands, which include Puerto Rico, as of late Monday and was expected to pass over them Tuesday night or early Wednesday. The storm is moving west at about 14 mph.

“For people in South Florida, now is the time to start preparing and getting those hurricane kits in order,” Chuck Caracozza, a meteorologist at National Weather Service in Miami, said.

The latest forecasts indicate Irma could hit Puerto Rico and then the northern half of the Dominican Republic, before rolling toward Cuba at the end of the week. The storm’s path over the weekend is less clear. It could move toward Florida and make landfall near Miami, or it could veer south of Cuba.

A hurricane warning has been issued for Caribbean islands including Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Barts. The British and U.S. Virgin Islands are also under a hurricane warning. The storm could drop up to 10 inches of rain over parts of the Caribbean and cause dangerous flooding and landslides, the National Weather Service said.