Sept. 6 (UPI) — The National Hurricane Center said Wednesday Hurricane Irma remains a Category 5 storm and is now moving away from Barbuda and towards St. Martin and Puerto Rico.
The storm, which strengthened to Category 5 Tuesday, picked up steam in the Atlantic east of the chain of islands in the Caribbean.
The NHC said in its 5 a.m. advisory that the storm’s center was about 35 miles east-southeast of St. Martin and 145 miles east of St. Croix. It recorded maximum sustained winds of 185 mph while moving west at 15 mph.
Irma’s wind speeds make it the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic basin, outside the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, in the NHC’s recorded history, the center said.
Irma could hit Puerto Rico by Wednesday evening, prompting Gov. Ricardo Rosello to issue a state of emergency for his island. Irma is forecast to hit the Dominican Republic on Thursday and Cuba by Friday.
The International Space Station’s external cameras captured a dramatic view of Hurricane Irma as it moved across the Atlantic Ocean Sept. 5. pic.twitter.com/mc61pt2G8O
– Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) September 5, 2017
If the storm continues to turn north, it could approach South Florida by Saturday and travel up Florida’s Gulf or Atlantic Coast.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening declared a federal emergency for Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, making federal funds available for preparation ahead of Irma.
If Irma does make landfall in any U.S. territory, it will be the first time two Category 4 hurricanes made landfall in the United States in a single year. Hurricane Harvey arrived in Texas on Aug. 25 as a Category 4 storm.
In 1992, a Category 4 and Category 5 made landfall in the United States, but not two Category 4s.
Irma became the ninth named Atlantic storm of the season Wednesday, following Harvey. The tenth named Atlantic storm, Jose, formed in the Atlantic earlier Tuesday — and the eleventh, Katia, early Wednesday.