World Bulletin / News Desk
Irma strengthened to a Category 4 storm Monday afternoon and is expected to reach Puerto Rico by early Thursday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Officials say the storm could dump heavy amounts of rain, cause landslides and produce flash flooding.
As of 5 p.m. Monday (2100 GMT), Irma was located nearly 500 miles (804 kilometers) east of the Leeward Islands, the agency said, packing sustained winds of 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour) as it moves west at 13 mph (20 kph).
The center added that there was an "increasing chance" the south-easternmost U.S. state of Florida would be exposed to "some impacts from" the storm later this week and the weekend.
Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in all 67 counties of the fourth largest U.S. state, calling Irma a "life-threatening" storm in a statement.
"In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Scott said. "While the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared."
Irma comes after a week of torrential rain and flash floods caused by Hurricane Harvey that devastated the city of Houston in the southern state of Texas, affecting neighboring Louisiana and exiting north after dropping rain as far north as Kentucky.