Hurricane Irma 'rapidly intensifies' as it bears down on the US after Harvey devastation

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A powerful new hurricane is “rapidly intensifying” in the Atlantic and may next week pose a fresh threat to the Caribbean and the United States.

The news came after at least 39 people, including six members of the same family, were feared killed in Hurricane Harvey, with a further 30,000 people expected to be needing shelter.

Tropical Storm Irma was classified on Wednesday morning and strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane over the eastern Atlantic on Thursday as winds soared to 115mph.

It was about 775 miles west of the Cape Verde islands, packing maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said in an advisory.

NHC forecast models showed it heading for the US territory of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and neighbouring Haiti with possible landfall by the middle of next week. 

The storm has escalated so quickly that the National Hurricane Centre gave the term “rapid intensification”, meaning wind speeds strengthened by 35mph or more in 24 hours.

“Fluctuations in strength, up or down, are possible during the next several days, but Irma is expected to remain a powerful hurricane through the weekend,” said the NHC.

Irma is said by meteorologists to be a classic Cape Verde hurricane, a type of storm that forms near the Cape Verde Islands and intensifies as it blows across the Atlantic.

Hurricane Harvey, now downgraded to a Tropical Depression, has paralysed most of Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States, with  rescuers launching into a race against time to help thousands of Texas residents.

It was the fiercest hurricane to hit the US in 13 years, generating an amount of rain that would normally be seen only once in more than 1,000 years.

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