Category 5 Hurricane Irma has torn into the northeastern Leeland Islands, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico for over two days, according to the National Hurricane Center. The islands, battered by the storm, are now under a hurricane watch for two new storms: Hurricane Jose and Hurricane Katia.
“This storm is just barely hitting Puerto Rico, so we have a long way to go before we can make solid predictions on what will happen next,” a representative from the Virginia National Weather Service said on Wednesday. “It could continue on its current path, or it could even slow down a bit.”
However, by Friday afternoon, Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency for Virginia.
“It is unfortunate that just as our nation has begun the process to repair the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Harvey, that we are faced with another extreme storm,” McAuliffe said in a release. “However, if there is one lesson we can take from the tragic events that occurred in Texas, it is that we must redouble our preparation efforts. The order I issued today is intended to both protect our commonwealth and to make sure we have every option at our disposal to help our neighboring states when Irma makes landfall.”
The storm is expected to hit Florida and the southeast U.S. by early next week, and experts are not sure that Virginia is in the clear as of yet.
“We are still uncertain of the likelihood of the impact, but there is a high likelihood that Virginia will be affected sometime next Tuesday or Wednesday,” the representative said. “What we would have to worry about is mostly high winds and rainfall.”
The hurricane is expected to bring life-threatening winds, storm surges and hazardous amounts of rainfall, according to the NHC — maximum sustained winds could rise to 185 mph.
The National Weather Service advised thinking in terms of next week by practicing worst-case planning and preparing for possible power outages.
Local forecasts predict that Virginians should expect rainfall and remain cautious of the storm, and the Department of Homeland Security advises that affected areas should take the necessary precautions.
“We are encouraging everyone to build disaster kits,” Jonathan Mcnamara, the communications director of the Richmond Red Cross, said. “These include food, water, and medications — for you, your family and your pets.”
Food and water cover only basic needs, however, and the Red Cross recommends taking extra precautions as well.
“In your disaster kit, include any important documents,” Mcnamara said. “This can be your passport, deed or titles — things you might need if you get separated from your home.
We also encourage building a digital disaster kit, for phone chargers, battery packs and any item that will allow you to contact and get updates from emergency officials.”
The Richmond Red Cross is busily preparing for the incoming Hurricane Irma, and is ready to give aid to all those in need.
“We’re mobilizing supplies and volunteers into areas that could be impacted,” Mcnamara said. “We are also actively preparing for if the storm hits Richmond.”
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management is also encouraging people to “Know Your Zone” before this storm impacts Virginia. To learn which new hurricane evacuation zone you live in, please visit their website here.
For more information on how to prepare for possible storm conditions, visit redcross.org.