The Caribbean braces itself for incoming hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma has been upgraded to a category four storm as several warnings are issued to the Caribbean islands

Hurricane Irma strengthens to category four storm. Photo: NBC News
Hurricane Irma strengthens to category four storm. Photo: NBC News

Incoming hurricane Irma has sustained winds of up to 220km/hr and is likely to strengthen in the next 36 hours, said the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC).

Projected to hit the Leeward Islands, causing storm surges, powerful winds and torrential rain, the US state of Florida has declared a state of emergency.

The warnings flood in as residents in Louisiana and Texas are still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, which struck as a category four storm, causing heavy rain and leaving thousands of homes and lives destroyed.

The NHC warns that it is too early to forecast Irma’s exact path or the effects it may have ion continental US but it is set to reach east of Puerto Rico, the Leeward Islands by late Tuesday or early Wednesday, the centre added.

It may cause rainfall, in some areas of up to 25cm, raising water levels by 3m above normal levels.

Puerto Rico has activated the National Guard and declared a state of emergency, with Governor Ricardo Rossello announcing the opening of emergency shelters, able to house up to 62,000 people. Schools will also be closed on Tuesday.

In preparation, queues of people have formed outside shops, with residents stocking up on water, food, batteries, generators and other supples.

Hurricane warnings have since been issued for the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, St Kitts and Nevis, Sint Maarten, St Martin, Montserrat, St Barthelemy, Saba, Puerto Rico,  St Eustatious, British Virgin Islands and US Virgin Islands.

Hurricane conditions are expected in the next 36 hours.

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