President Donald Trump has declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as Hurricane Irma makes its approach.
The declarations allow the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts in those areas.
Puerto Rico's governor has already said the Category 5 storm is likely to be more dangerous than Hurricane Harvey.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shared this view of Hurricane Irma's eye.
Monroe County, Florida, which earlier Tuesday issued a mandatory evacuation for all visitors, has also ordered residents to evacuate.
The mandatory evacuation takes effect at 7 p.m. local time on Wednesday.
"There will be no roadblocks to prevent people from entering the Keys before the storm to take care of property and help evacuate family members," the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners said in a Facebook post. "But all residents should heed the resident evacuation orders."
The Key West International Airport will close Wednesday night after Delta flight 567 departs for Atlanta at 5 p.m. local time.
Hurricane warnings are now in effect for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as Irma's maximum sustained winds have increased to 185 mph, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.
The storm is located about 180 miles east of Antigua and 185 miles east-southeast of Barbuda and is moving west at 14 mph.
Hurricane warnings are also in effect for:
- Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis
- Saba, St. Eustatius and Sint Maarten
- Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy
- British Virgin Islands
- Vieques and Culebra
Hurricane watches are in effect for:
- Dominican Republic, from Cabo Engado to the northern border with Haiti
- Haiti, from the northern border with the Dominican Republic to Le Mole St. Nicholas
- Turks and Caicos Islands
- Southeastern Bahamas
A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for Guadeloupe and Dominica, and a Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for the Dominican Republic, from south of Cabo Engao to Isla Saona, and Haiti, from south of Le Mole St. Nicholas to Port-Au-Prince.
Monroe County, Florida, issued a mandatory evacuation order for Florida Keys visitors, and an evacuation order will also be issued for residents.
"If ever there was a storm to take seriously in the Keys, this is it," said Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt. "The sooner people leave, the better."
The evacuation order for visitors takes effect at sunrise on Wednesday.
The county urged both tourists and residents to "fill their tanks and complete their evacuation plans" and noted that there will be no shelters in the county.
Florida residents are stocking up ahead of Hurricane Irma's potential arrival.
The National Weather Service (NWS) said Tuesday that the chance of "direct impacts from Hurricane Irma later this week and this weekend is increasing in the Florida Keys and portions of the Florida peninsula."
The NWS said it is too soon to specify the "timing and magnitude" or Irma's impacts on these areas, as well as what direct impacts Irma could have on the continental U.S.
"Everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place," the NWS said.
The "potentially catastrophic" Category 5 hurricane will bring "life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards" to the northeastern Leeward Islands today and the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico beginning tomorrow, the NWS said, adding that "preparations should be rushed to completion."
Hurricane watches have been issued for portions of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the southeastern Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. Irma could bring "dangerous wind, storm surge and rainfall" to those areas on Thursday and Friday, the NWS said.
Hurricane Irma's sustained maximum winds have reached 180 mph, according to the National Weather Service's Miami-South Florida bureau.
Here's more information on Hurricane Irma.
The National Hurricane Center provides an update on Irma.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) on Tuesday said that Irma has become an "extremely dangerous category 5 hurricane" wielding "life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall."
The NHC's latest advisory about the storm said it would likely reach the northeaster Leeward Islands in the Carribean Sea sometime later that day.
The organization also noted that Irma would likely strike the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a "dangerous major hurricane" starting Wednesday.
The NHC continued the storm could have the same force when it reaches Cuba, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos and Hispaniola later this week.
"There is an increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys later this week and this weekend," the advisory added.
"Otherwise, it is still too early to determine what direct impacts Irma might have on the continental United States. However, everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place."
Hurricane Irma’s maximum sustained winds have reached 150 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest advisory early Tuesday.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that the hurricane center’s notice means Irma is close to becoming a Category 5 storm.
Category 5 hurricanes boast maximum sustained winds of at least 157 mph, according to the Saffir-Simpson scale used for classifying the intensity of hurricanes.
Irma is roughly 320 miles east of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean Sea and heading west at about 14 mph.
The storm is about 1,400 miles away from Key West, Florida, but hurricane warnings have been issued in the American territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
The hurricane center said Irma’s strength is expected to fluctuate during the next 48 hours, but added that the storm is expected to remain firmly in Category 4 territory.
The organization typically issues hurricane warnings about 36 hours before winds achieving tropical-storm force winds are predicted to strike.
Irma morphed into a Category 4 hurricane Monday as it neared the eastern Caribbean region with maximum sustained winds around 130 mph that afternoon.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Monday declared a state of emergency before Irma potentially reaches the U.S.
“Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared,” he said in a statement.
“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.”
A person familiar with the discussions on Monday, meanwhile, told The Associated Press that the National Football League (NFL) is considering moving a game due to Irma.
The Miami Dolphins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are slated for kickoff this Sunday at 1 p.m. local time.
AP’s source said that the NFL is mulling whether to move the contest to Thursday or Friday instead.
The NFL is also considering if it should move the game to another location besides Miami, the person added, as Irma could impact south Florida this weekend.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.