By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer
September 5,2017, 12:32:35PM,EDT
Preparations are well underway in the Caribbean Islands and the United States as extremely dangerous Hurricane Irma churns closer to land.The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Irma became a Category 5 storm with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph shortly before 8 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5.
Irma is the first Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic since Matthew in October 2016. With maximum sustained winds of 180 mph, it’s the strongest hurricane since Felix in September 2007.
The NHC also said Irma became the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in recorded history.
“Preparations should be rushed to completion in the hurricane warning area,” the hurricane center said, calling Irma an "extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a statewide state of emergency on Monday night to ensure “local governments have ample time, resources and flexibility to get prepared.”
“Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm, and Florida must be prepared,” Scott said. “I have continued to be briefed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management on Hurricane Irma and current forecast models have Florida in Irma’s path – potentially impacting millions of Floridians.”
"In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared,” Scott said.
Scott added that he had spoken with President Donald Trump and said the president offered the full resources of the federal government as Floridians prepare.
On Tuesday, Scott directed all 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard to report for duty this Friday.
Heeding the warning, many South Florida residents took to the stores to stock up on supplies including drinking water, the Miami Herald reported. Stores had already begun to replenish supplies and were expecting more shipments later this week.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency for the island and had been in touch with White House officials, including Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly.
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said supplies were in place at its distribution center in Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan.
U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp declared a state of emergency for the islands and ordered the National Guard into active military service.
Irma is heading toward the Leeward Islands where it will bring severe wind and water damage to most of these islands Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.
Mandatory visitor evacuations will begin Wednesday morning in the Florida Keys, emergency officials said Tuesday.
"We value our visitors and want them to be safe," Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said. "This is the reason why we need them to calmly leave the Keys with plenty of advance notice before the storm may reach our shores."
Gastesi said mandatory evacuations for residents would also likely be issued.