(NBC) — Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, churned across Northern Caribbean Islands today with a catastrophic mix of fierce winds, surf and rain, en route to a possible Florida landfall over the weekend.
Irma is expected to become the second powerful storm to thrash the United States in as many weeks after devastating Hurricane Harvey, but its precise trajectory remained uncertain.
The eye of Irma, a Category 5 storm packing winds of 185 miles per hour, passed over the island of Barbuda, east of Puerto Rico, early today, the U.S. National Hurricane Center reported, possibly hitting Florida on Saturday.
Several Leeward Islands, including Anguilla, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, as well as for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic were under a hurricane warning.
The White House said President Trump approved emergency declarations for Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, mobilizing federal disaster relief efforts.
Authorities in the Florida Keys called for a mandatory evacuation of visitors to start at sunrise today, and public schools throughout south Florida were ordered closed.
Several tiny islands in the resort-heavy Eastern Caribbean were the first in harm’s way.
Hurricane watches were in effect for Guadeloupe, Haiti, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas.