Hurricane Irma has intensified into a dangerous category 5 hurricane as it speeds toward the OECS islands of Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis.
At 8 o’clock this morning, the center of Irma was located at approximately 270 miles east of Antigua and is moving westward at about 14 mph.
Irma’s maximum sustained winds have increased to 175 mph, according to the National Hurricane Centre.
Hurricane warnings have been issued for the northern Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. This includes Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, Vieques and Culebra.
Additionally, both a hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning have been issued for Guadeloupe, and a tropical storm warning is in effect for Dominica.
Both LIAT and Caribbean Airlines have cancelled a host of flights to and from the region today and through to Wednesday.
Irma is likely to make a direct hit on the northern Leeward Islands overnight tonight into Wednesday as at least a Category 4 hurricane, the strongest to hit that area since Lenny in 1999.
Hurricane-force winds (74-plus mph) are expected within the hurricane warning area of the Leeward Islands by Tuesday night, and tropical-storm-force winds (39-plus mph) are expected by late Tuesday.
Experts say destructive winds, capable of widespread tree damage, power outages, and structural damage can be expected. Storm-surge flooding, high surf and rip currents will also be dangers, and heavy rain could contribute to flooding and mudslides, as well.
The NHC says that a storm surge of 6 to 9 feet above normal tide levels is possible in the extreme northern Leeward Islands near and north of where the center tracks. Battering waves will ride atop the surge, capable of additional damage and erosion at the coast.
Rainfall totals in the Leeward Islands may total 4 to 8 inches, with locally 12 inches in spots.
Conditions should improve by Wednesday night.