(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Hurricane Irma, barreling towards the Caribbean, has been upgraded to a powerful Category 4, as islands in its path brace themselves for the dangerous storm's arrival.
Hurricane advisories have been issued for territories that dot the West Indies, including parts of the Leeward Islands, the British and US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in preparation for the intensifying storm that could pummel the area with life-threatening wind, storm surges and torrential rain by Tuesday evening, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).
A Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale means sustained winds of 130-156 miles per hour (209-251 kph) with "catastrophic" outcomes, including uprooted trees and downed power lines, water and electricity outages, and significant property damage causing uninhabitable conditions, according to the Miami-based hurricane center.
Irma, now packing 130 mph (215 kph) winds, also threatens Florida and the US East Coast, said the NHC, which cautioned that it was still too early to forecast the storm's exact path or what effects it might have on the continental United States.
"There is an increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys later this week and this weekend. In addition, rough surf and dangerous marine conditions will begin to affect the southeastern US coast by later this week," the center said.
Irma will be the second powerful hurricane to thrash the United States and its territories in as many weeks.
Residents in Texas and Louisiana are still reeling from the catastrophic effects of the deadly Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25 and dumped several feet (meters) of rain, destroying thousands of homes and businesses.