MIAMI – The “potentially catastrophic” hurricane Irma, the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history, is moving towards the north of Puerto Rico, the United States National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported late Wednesday.
Irma’s eye is located about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of San Juan, Puerto Rico, according to the Miami-based NHC in its public advisory released at 8:00 pm local time (0000 GMT).
It continues to move at around 26 km/h towards the west-northwest with maximum sustained winds of 295 km/h and even higher gusts.
The NHC forecast that Irma’s eye will continue to pass just north of Puerto Rico Wednesday night, will pass near or just north of the Hispaniola Island’s coast Thursday, and will be near the Turks and Caicos and southeast Bahamas by Thursday evening.
Then it is expected to head towards northern Cuba and will arrive in Florida later in the week.
Irma, which, according to the NHC, is the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever, arrived Wednesday early morning in the Caribbean and hit Antigua and Barbuda. On the island of San Martin the Princess Juliana International Airport, the third largest airport in the Caribbean, suffered serious damage to its infrastructure and runway.
French authorities reported from Paris that two people were killed and two others injured in the French territories of San Martin and San Bartolome, in the Lesser Antilles, due to the effects of Irma.
Although some fluctuations in intensity are expected, the NHC forecasts that Irma will remain a powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days and will produce rain accumulations of 20 to 30 centimeters, with isolated maximums of 45 cm, through Saturday.
Irma’s “large and destructive waves” and storm surges could raise sea levels from 2 to 3 meters above normal along the coasts of the islands in the Northeastern Caribbean.
The first tropical storm in the Atlantic in 2017 was Arlene, which formed in the mid-Atlantic in April, more than a month before the start of the season.
It was subsequently followed by Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily and Franklin, which became the first hurricane of the season; then Gert, the second hurricane; Harvey, which reached category 4; Irma, category 5, the maximum, and Jose and Katia, both in category 1 have just started.