Powerful Category 4 Hurricane Irma aims at Caribbean islands

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Officials across the northeastern Caribbean canceled airline flights, shuttered schools and urged people to hunker down indoors as Hurricane Irma barreled toward the region as a powerful Category 4 storm expected to strengthen more before nearing land late today.

States of emergency were declared in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and all of Florida while people on various Caribbean islands boarded up homes and rushed to find last-minute supplies, forming long lines outside supermarkets and gas stations.

Irma had maximum sustained winds of 140 mph late Monday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It was centered 410 miles east of the Leeward Islands and moving west at 13 mph.

Authorities warned that the storm could dump up to 10 inches of rain, cause landslides and dangerous flash floods and generate waves of up to 23 feet.

“This is not an opportunity to go outside and try to have fun with a hurricane,” U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp warned. “It’s not time to get on a surfboard.”

The storm’s center was expected to move near or over the northern Leeward Islands late today and early Wednesday, the hurricane center said.

Residents on the U.S. East Coast were urged to monitor the storm’s progress in case it should turn northward toward Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas.

“This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of (Hurricane) Harvey,” Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, said in a statement.

In the Caribbean, hurricane warnings were issued for 12 island groups, including Antigua, where the governor urged people to evacuate the tiny island of Anegada if they could ahead of the storm.