Florida declares state of emergency as Hurricane Irma intensifies to a Category 5 storm

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott, R, has declared a statewide emergency in response to Hurricane Irma, a roiling storm that intensified into “an extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane” while it churned toward the United States.

Even as millions across Texas are reeling from the impact of Hurricane Harvey, which battered that region with record-setting rain and was blamed for at least 60 deaths, Irma continues to intensify and prompt increasingly alarming forecasts.

The National Hurricane Center said Tuesday morning that Irma had become a Category 5 storm, with NOAA Hurricane Hunters reporting maximum wind speeds of 175 mph — making it among the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, according to the Post’s Capital Weather Gang. While the hurricane center said Irma’s intensity may fluctuate, it is expected to remain a Category 4 or 5 storm over the coming days.

The Capital Weather Gang said that Irma’s forecast track shifted to the south and west over the weekend, but warned of a probable impact in the United States: “It seems likely now that the storm will impact or strike the U.S. coast early next week, although meteorologists don’t know exactly where. Florida and the Gulf Coast continue to be at risk.”

While its exact path won’t be known for days, the hurricane’s growth has sent many Floridians into familiar pre-storm routines of preparing hurricane shutters, stocking up on supplies and nervously monitoring the news.

“Everyone should continue to monitor, check supplies, and be ready to implement action plan,” the National Weather Service in Miami posted Tuesday morning on Twitter.

Scott signed an executive order Monday declaring an emergency in each of Florida’s 67 counties, pointing to forecasts at the time warning that Irma could make landfall in the southern or southwestern parts of the state and “travel up the entire spine of Florida.”

“Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared,” Scott said in a statement accompanying the order.

The warnings arrive not long after Florida marked the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew’s devastating landfall there, and as residents of the state, like many others nationwide, have spent recent days glued to news reports documenting Harvey’s mammoth impact in Texas.

Scott said Irma’s potential impact — which could include millions of people in Florida and beyond — warranted the emergency declaration, which ordered state officials to waive tolls on public highways, ready the Florida National Guard and prepare public facilities such as schools to be used as shelters.

“In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared,” he said. “This state of emergency allows our emergency management officials to act swiftly in the best interest of Floridians without the burden of bureaucracy or red tape.”

The National Hurricane Center said Tuesday there could be up to 12 inches of rain across parts of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

“Hurricane conditions are expected to begin within the hurricane warning area in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday, with tropical storm conditions beginning tonight,” the Hurricane Center said. “Hurricane and tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area in the Dominican Republic by early Thursday.”

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