SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Irma has strengthened into a Category 4 storm as it approaches the northeast Caribbean.
The storm’s center is 490 miles east of the Leeward Islands late Monday afternoon. It has maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour and is moving west at 13 mph.
Emergency officials are warning that Irma could dump up to 10 inches of rain, unleash landslides and dangerous flash floods and generate waves of up to 23 feet as the storm draws closer.
A hurricane warning has been issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and St. Barts. A hurricane watch is in effect for Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra, the British and U.S. Virgin islands and Guadeloupe.
U.S. residents were urged to monitor the storm’s progress in case it turns 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 Harvey,” Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, said in a statement.
In the Caribbean, Antigua and Anguilla shuttered schools on Monday, and government office closures were expected to follow.
On the tiny island of Barbuda, hotel manager Andrea Christian closed down the Palm Tree Guest House as Irma approached. She said she was not afraid even though it would be her first time facing a storm of that magnitude.
“We can’t do anything about it,” Christian said by phone, adding that she had stocked up on food and water. “We just have to wait it out.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello warned of flooding and power outages.
“It’s no secret that the infrastructure of the Puerto Rico Power Authority is deteriorated,” Rossello said. He activated the National Guard, canceled classes for Tuesday and declared a half-day of work.
Meteorologist Roberto Garcia warned that Puerto Rico could experience hurricane-like conditions in the next 48 hours.
“Any deviation, which is still possible, could bring even more severe conditions to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Garcia said.
The U.S. Virgin Islands said schools would reopen on Friday instead of Tuesday.
In the Dominican Republic, Public Works Minister Gonzalo Castillo said workers there were also clearing away roadworks and cleaning out sewer drains and that President Danilo Medina would meet with emergency agencies.
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