Irma strengthens into a powerful category 4 hurricane

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Hurricane Irma has strengthened into a powerful category four storm with maximum sustained winds near 130 miles (215 kilometers) per hour as it moves closer to the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean, forecasters say. The storm could affect Florida on Sunday.

As of 5 p.m. ET on Monday, the center of Irma was located about 490 miles (790 kilometers) east of the Leeward Islands, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC). Its maximum sustained winds are near 130 miles (215 kilometers) per hour with higher gusts.

Forecasters expect Irma to reach the northeastern Leeward Islands as a category four hurricane on early Wednesday morning. It is then expected to pass close to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas.

A hurricane warning is in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Saint Martin, and Saint Barthélemy. A hurricane watch is in effect for Guadeloupe, the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra. A tropical storm watch is in effect for Dominica.

“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the National Hurricane Center said.

After passing through the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma could affect the U.S. state of Florida on Sunday, though it remains uncertain how close to the state the storm will come. Irma could still be a major hurricane at that time.

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