Satellite view of Hurricane Irma on 5 September 2017. Irma was a Category 5 hurricane, packing 175 mile-per-hour winds, according to the 8 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Cente. Graphic: WPEC / CBS12

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, 5 September 2017 (Associated Press) – Hurricane Irma strengthened into a dangerous Category 5 storm Tuesday as it roared toward the northeast Caribbean on a path toward the U.S.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Irma had sustained winds of 175mph (280 kph) and was centered about 270 miles (440 kilometers) east of Antigua. It was moving west at 14 mph (22 kph).

Irma's center was expected to move near or over the northern Leeward Islands late Tuesday and early Wednesday, the hurricane center said. The eye was later expected to pass about 50 miles (80.46 kilometers) from Puerto Rico late Wednesday.

Authorities warned that the storm could dump up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain, cause landslides and flash floods and generate waves of up to 23 feet (7 meters). Government officials began evacuations in certain islands and urged people to finalize all hurricane preparations as shelves emptied out across islands including Puerto Rico.

"The decisions that we make in the next couple of hours can make the difference between life and death," said Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello. "This is an extremely dangerous storm."

Residents on the U.S. East Coast 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.

In the Caribbean, hurricane warnings were issued for 12 island groups, including the British Virgin Islands, where the governor urged people to evacuate the tiny island of Anegada if they could ahead of the storm. [more]

Irma strengthens to a Cat 5 storm as it nears Caribbean

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