Irma strengthens into a massive category 5 hurricane

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Hurricane Irma has strengthened into a powerful category five storm with maximum sustained winds near 175 miles (280 kilometers) per hour as it churns towards the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean, forecasters say.

As of 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the center of Irma was located about 270 miles (440 kilometers) east of Antigua, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC). Its maximum sustained winds are near 175 miles (280 kilometers) per hour with higher gusts.

Forecasters expect Irma to reach the northeastern Leeward Islands on early Wednesday morning. It is then expected to pass close to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas over the next few days, after which it could impact Florida on Sunday.

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