Irma strengthens to Category 5 hurricane

Irma strengthens to Category 5 hurricane
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Hurricane Irma has strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane as it approaches Florida, Puerto Rico and other major population centers in the U.S. and the Caribbean.

In a tweet Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service confirmed that Irma now contains maximum sustained wind speeds of up to 175 miles per hour as it nears landfall on Cuba and Florida later this week.

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Category 5 is the strongest classification for hurricanes, and denotes any storm with maximum wind speeds of more than 155 miles per hour.

Irma's strengthening comes just more than a week after Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, made landfall in Texas and Louisiana, killing dozens and causing billions of dollars in property damage.

States of emergency have been declared in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida ahead of Irma's projected landfall late Saturday or early Sunday. In a statement on Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) warned that the storm presents a "severe threat" to the state.

"Hurricane Irma poses a severe threat to the entire State of Florida, and requires that timely precautions are taken to protect the communities, critical infrastructure, and general welfare of this State," the statement reads.

"As governor, I am responsible to meet the dangers presented to this state and its people by this emergency."

Relief efforts are already being planned. Shortly before Scott's announcement, officials at the Red Cross in North Carolina released a statement saying that the organization was recalling volunteers from Harvey relief efforts to prepare for the possible devastation on the East Coast. 

“We put a hold on sending volunteers from the mid-Atlantic states,” Red Cross regional officer Barry Porter said Monday.

“There is still a lot of other states to send volunteers from, but because of this pending threat to Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina we’ve asked those volunteers to hold, update their records, and help us here in the Carolina’s if we need them.”