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Hurricane Irma now Category 5, aiming for Caribbean

Staff Writer |
Hurricane Irma strengthened to a Category 5 storm early Tuesday as it continues to pick up steam in the Atlantic, just east of a chain of islands in the Caribbean.

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The National Hurricane Center said in latest advisory that the storm's center is about 320 miles east of the Leeward Islands, the easternmost in the chain of Caribbean islands, and is packing maximum sustained winds of 175 mph. It's moving almost due west at 14 mph.

Warnings of winds and storm surges have been issued for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The NHC projects that Irma could hit Puerto Rico by Wednesday evening, prompting Gov. Ricardo Rosello to issue a state of emergency for his island. Irma is forecast to hit the Dominican Republic on Thursday and Cuba by Friday.

If the storm continues to turn north, it could approach South Florida by Saturday and travel up Florida's Gulf or Atlantic Coast.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday declared preemptive state of emergency for all 67 counties in the state to give residents time to prepare for what could be a major hurricane.

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