Hurricane Irma path: Where and when could it hit? How strong is a Category 5 storm?

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The United States is bracing itself for another potentially devastating storm as Hurricane Irma was upgraded to Category 5 as it began crossing the Caribbean.

Irma is expected to hit the East Coast of the United States at the weekend, just two weeks Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas.

More than 30 people are believed to have been killed and billions of pounds worth of damage is thought to have been caused by Harvey.

With Irma now approaching, a state of emergency has been declared in Florida, with Governor Rick Scott describing the storm as “life-threatening”.

Here’s everything you need to know about the US–bound storm:

Where and when is Hurricane Irma expected to hit?

As areas on the East Coast of the United States prepare for the storm, the hurricane is expected to pass through a series of Caribbean islands before it reaches America.

Irma is expected to reach Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning, before passing over the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Friday.

Women push a shopping trolley filled with packs of bottled water and plastic boxes as they leave a supermarket in Saint-Martin in preparation for the storm (AFP/Getty Images)

By Saturday, the storm will likely have reached the Bahamas before hitting the south coast of Florida on Sunday.

However, The National Hurricane Centre (NHC) has warned that the path of the storm is still difficult to predict as well as its impact on US shores.

How strong is a Category 5 storm and how dangerous is Irma?

Hurricane Irma has been growing in strength over the past few days, having being upgraded to Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale – the highest possible rating.

It means winds are expected to reach over 157mph, with buildings likely to be severely damaged when the storm makes landfall.

Last year, Hurricane Matthew – also a Category 5 storm – killed more that 500 people during as it battered the Western Atlantic.

In total, 586 people are known to have died and an estimated $15 billion in damage caused.

Declaring a state of emergency, Florida Governor Rick Scott said: “Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared.”

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello warned that all decisions taken in the next couple of hours would make a difference between life and death.

Will the storm cause as much damage as Hurricane Harvey in the US?

With the storm expected to bring as much as 10 inches of rain, leading to landslides, flash floods and waves of up to 23 feet to areas hardest-hit, Hurricane Irma has the potential to devastate areas.

But as its trajectory is still difficult to entirely predict, there remains a chance storm could largely pass Florida by if it moves out into the Atlantic.

The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, said the estimated damage of Harvey was about $150bn to $180bn, more costly than previous devastating storms such as Katrina or Sandy.

Homes were flooded when Hurricane Harvey hit (AP)

Hurricane Harvey was also slightly weaker than Irma and rated as a Category 4 hurricane.

Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, said in a statement: “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.”

The hurricane is expected to wreak havoc in the Caribbean islands, with Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat and Guadeloupe set to be hit first.

What safety measures are in place?

Schools in areas affected have already been closed in preparation for the storm, while emergency shelters able to house up to 62,000 people have been set up in Florida.

Pictures have already emerged of residents rushing to supermarkets to stock provisions as they brace for a potentially devastating impact.

US Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp has warned residents against a casual approach to the storm.

He said: “This is not an opportunity to go outside and try to have fun with a hurricane. It’s not time to get on a surfboard.”

Some islands in the Caribbean are significantly less prepared, with economically struggling Puerto Rico bracing for severe outages.

People in the US territory of Puerto Rico braced for electricity outages after the director of the island’s power company predicted that storm damage could leave some areas without electricity for four to six months.

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