Hurricane Irma: Puerto Rico prepares as storm threatens Caribbean, East Coast

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Hurricane Irma continues to swirl in the Atlantic.

Puerto Rico is preparing for the onslaught of Hurricane Irma, which could pass through the area on Wednesday.

Hurricane Irma gained strength in the Atlantic, turning into a Category 3 storm.  Its winds were nearing 115 mph (185 km/h), the National Hurricane Center said.

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said the government agencies on the island were prepared to deal with any emergencies caused by the storm. Puerto Rico is likely to experience tropical storm winds and receive between four and eight inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service.

“We have established protocols for the safety of all,” Rosselló said at a news conference, while he also urged islanders to take precautions.

As the hurricane approaches, the Puerto Rican government has set up 456 shelters that can hold more than 62,000 people. They also spent $65 million dollars on food to distribute to those affected by Hurricane Irma.

Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the sole provider of electricity on the island, has inspected main transmission lines and is working on “the trimming of trees in critical areas.”

Other islands on the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea also made preparations Sunday for approaching Hurricane Irma, which could hit as soon as Tuesday.

Hurricane watches were posted for Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Monserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin, Guadeloupe and the British Virgin Islands.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the center of the storm could near that region late Tuesday. It said islands farther north, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, should monitor the progress of the storm.

Antigua’s prime minister, Gaston Browne, urged people to take preventative measures in case the storm should hit, including cleaning drains and removing objects that could be sent airborne by high winds. Workers began pruning trees and shrubs to reduce chances for branches to tear down power and phone lines.

“The passage of a hurricane is not a matter to be taken lightly, but we must not panic,” Browne said in a statement.

The Antigua and Barbuda weather service said Irma was expected to bring heavy rains, rough surf and high winds to islands along the northern edge of the Antilles.

In the Dominican Republic, Public Works Minister Gonzalo Castillo said workers there were clear away road works and also clean out blockages of sewer drains. He said President Danilo Medina would lead a meeting with emergencies agencies on Monday to discuss storm preparations.