Hurricane Irma slams the Caribbean; Florida could face ‘direct impacts’

ABC News(MIAMI) -- Hurricane Irma passed over the island of Barbuda during the early morning hours of Wednesday as Floridians prepared for the worst ahead of the record-breaking storm.

Sustained winds on the ground in Barbuda were recorded at 108 mph, gusting to 155 mph before the anemometer, the instrument measuring the wind, broke. As of 5 a.m. ET, the monster Category 5 storm's eye wall was butting up against St. Martin with sustained winds of 185 mph and even higher gusts.

Going forward, the hurricane is forecast to move north of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands Wednesday afternoon, unleashing strong winds and heavy rain but not making a direct hit. By Sunday morning, Irma will be approaching Florida and the Keys.

Preparations are already underway in Florida, which could face "direct impacts," according to the National Hurricane Center, though it's too soon to tell for sure. The official National Hurricane Center path shows Irma will travel straight up the middle of the state.

But the latest computer models, which project possible paths for the storm, show Irma could move further to the east, threatening the Carolinas and the East Coast.

Mandatory evacuations have already been ordered for Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys. Evacuations for visitors are required beginning Wednesday morning, while residents must evacuate starting Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Many residents of the Florida Keys didn't wait until Wednesday as they headed out of the region Tuesday evening.

So far, there are no other mandatory evacuations in Florida, but officials in Miami-Dade County advised residents in low-lying areas, including Miami Beach, to begin evacuating on Wednesday.

Many areas of Florida have already seen gas shortages, with the hashtag #nogas popping up on social media Tuesday. Long lines formed all over the state, not just in the Miami area. Stations in the Tampa area have run out, and long lines were common at Orlando stations as well.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jose is following behind Irma on a similar path. Jose officially became a tropical storm on Tuesday before noon with winds of 40 mph and is expected to become a Category 2 hurricane by the end of the week. It could skirt the most northeastern Caribbean islands, but so far it is not projected to be a threat to Puerto Rico or the U.S.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Hurricane Irma did not make landfall on Barbuda.


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