Hurricane Irma strengthens; Florida on alert - KTEN.com - No One Gets You Closer

Hurricane Irma strengthens; Florida on alert

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As the Texas Gulf Coast continues the long cleanup after Hurricane Harvey, there's a new storm threat to the U.S. mainland.

Her name is Irma, and Florida has already issued a statewide state of emergency ahead of the system.

Hurricane Irma was bearing down on eastern Caribbean islands on Monday afternoon. At 4 p.m. CT, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said Irma had strengthened to a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. It was located less than 500 miles from the Leeward Islands, headed west at 13 mph.

"We're looking at Irma as a very significant event," Ronald Jackson, executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, said by phone. "I can't recall a tropical cone developing that rapidly into a major hurricane prior to arriving in the central Caribbean."

Hurricane warnings were issued for the islands of Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy.

A hurricane watch was posted for Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and Guadelupe.

But computer models indicate that Irma could later threaten much of Florida by late Sunday as it continues to track westward, and forecasters say it could become even more fierce.

"Given these forecasts and the intensity of this storm, I have declared a state of emergency for every county in Florida to make certain that state, federal and local governments are able to work together and make sure resources are dispersed to local communities as we get prepared for this storm," Gov. Rick Scott said in a written statement.

U.S. residents were urged to monitor the storm's progress in case it should turn 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 (Hurricane) Harvey," Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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