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Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Florida Brace for Category 5 Hurricane Irma

This Sept. 4, 2017, satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Hurricane Irma nearing the eastern Caribbean. (NOAA via AP)

Puerto Rico Ricardo Rosselló is requesting that President Trump declare a state of emergency before the island takes an expected hit from Hurricane Irma, which the National Hurricane Center said this morning could be “potentially catastrophic.”

Irma is a Category 5 storm as it barrels toward the Leeward Islands east of Puerto Rico, including the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Barbuda and Antigua, Saint Kitts, Dominica and Montserrat. A hurricane warning is in effect for the Leewards, Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra, while a hurricane watch is in effect for Guadeloupe and the Turks and Caicos Islands as well as parts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Bahamas.

The National Hurricane Center warned this morning of maximum sustained winds of 180 mph. Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days.” Irma is forecast to start hitting the Leewards overnight and strike Puerto Rico on Wednesday evening.

A storm surge of 7 to 11 feet is predicted for the Virgin Islands except for St. Croix, which should see 1 to 2 feet.

The U.S. Virgin Islands have declared a state of emergency. “While we hope for the best, let us be prepared for the worst,” tweeted Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.) this morning. “…Please make all necessary preparations you can immediately. Secure your properties, help a neighbor.”

Rosselló’s office said the island decided to make the emergency request of Trump after meeting with senior FEMA officials this morning. More than 500 FEMA staffers are in Puerto Rico in anticipation of Irma.

The government there has 456 shelters available that can fit 63,229 people. The population is 3.4 million.

“Despite the economic challenges Puerto Rico is facing, the approved budget has $15 million for the emergency fund,” Rosselló said Monday.

Irma could strike Florida by the weekend, but the NHC said it’s “still too early to determine what direct impacts Irma might have on the continental United States.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in all 67 counties in an executive order Monday, saying he made his decision “given these forecasts and the intensity of this storm.”

“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.”

Today, Scott said he’s “requesting the president declare a pre-landfall emergency for the State of Florida to help preposition necessary resources and support emergency protective measures across the state.”

“While we do not yet know the exact path of Irma, major impacts to Florida are potentially possible and we cannot wait to take aggressive preparedness actions. I continue to urge all Floridians to remain vigilant, stay tuned into local weather alerts and have a disaster plan in place today,” the governor added. “We will remain focused on making sure families and visitors have timely information on Hurricane Irma and we keep issuing important updates as we monitor the storm throughout the day.”