Hurricane Irma Tears Through Caribbean With Record Strength, Heading for Florida
Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever measured, has made landfall on the Caribbean islands of Barbuda and Antigua, and passing by just north of Puerto Rico. Following that, if the gargantuan storm continues on its current path, its core would hit the Florida coast by Sunday morning.
According to the latest estimates from the National Hurricane Center, Irma's top wind speeds have hit 185 mph as it moves west-northwest at about 16 mph through the Caribbean. The Category 5 storm was battering the U.S. Virgin Islands as of about 4 p.m. ET. Below is some chilling video of a security camera at Maho Beach in St. Maarten being utterly destroyed by Irma's power:
The storm is about 450 miles wide and has remained at peak strength for a record-long time already. The damage it will inflict across numerous countries and, eventually, the U.S. mainland will be catastrophic, possibly the worst ever seen by an Atlantic hurricane. Along with Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas are expected to face its wrath as well.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Monday, and ordered 200,000 residents to evacuate in anticipation of the storm's coming landfall. Floridians have spent the last few days preparing for impact, boarding up windows and stocking up on supplies. But it could all be meaningless if Irma remains even close to this strong when it hits.
The country has been reeling since Hurricane Harvey smashed into the Texas Gulf Coast just last month, causing cataclysmic flooding and damage across the Houston metropolitan area. Irma could end up being even worse, depending on how strong it still is by the time it reaches Florida and what particular path it takes as it moves further north and east or west. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), already taxed after Harvey, will have to simultaneously confront the new horrors of Irma. It will be a massive challenge.