Currently Irene has sustained winds of around 160kmh and was centred about 85km northeast of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. The hurricane was moving west-northwest near 19kmh and could eventually land in Florida, Georgia or South Carolina.
The storm slashed directly across Puerto Rico, tearing up trees and knocking out power to more than a million people. It then headed out to sea, north of the Dominican Republic, where the powerful storm’s outer bands were buffeting the north coast with dangerous sea surge and downpours. President Barack Obama declared an emergency for Puerto Rico, making it eligible for federal help.
The US National Hurricane Centre in Miami says Irene is likely to become a major Category 3 hurricane on Wednesday. By Thursday as it moves toward the US coast over warm open waters, it could become a Category 4, NHC hurricane specialist John Cangialosi said. Winds in such a storm can blow from 210-249kmh.
The last hurricane to make landfall in the US was Ike, which hit Texas in 2008.
After several extremely active years, Florida has not been struck by a hurricane since Wilma raked across the state’s south in October 2005. That storm was responsible for at least five deaths in the state and came two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.
“For residents in states that may be affected later this week, it’s critical that you take this storm seriously,” said Craig Fugate, administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.