Governor: La. watching Irma closely, evacuation plans could change

NEW ORLEANS -- Gov. John Bel Edwards said emergency preparedness leaders are watching Hurricane Irma closely as it churns in the Caribbean.

Edwards, speaking at City Park in New Orleans for the annual Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO picnic, said officials look at more than just the category of the hurricane when preparing for any potential major storm.

"It's not the category of the hurricane," he said. "In fact, the afternoon thunderstorms that cause so much flooding last month. It was an unnamed storm. The two storms in March and August last year that caused flooding so that 56 of our 64 parishes were declared federal disasters. They weren't named storms."

Tomorrow,  the state will hold a hurricane practice drill because Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath have changed the state's evacuation plan. If a storm comes to Louisiana soon, we may not be able to evacuate through South Texas because of Harvey cleanup.

As of 10 a.m. Monday, Hurricane Irma was about 560 miles (905 kilometers) east of the Leeward Islands, the National Hurricane Center said. It's packing maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph) as it heads west-northwest at 14 mph (22 kph).

"Swells generated by Irma will begin affecting the northern Leeward Islands today," the NHC said Monday. "These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions."

A string of Caribbean islands are now under hurricane warnings, including Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Martin/Sint Maarten and St. Barts, the NHC said.

"A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area," the hurricane center said. "A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds, conditions that make outside preparations difficult or dangerous. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion."

And Irma will only intensify in the coming days, CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar said. "Right now, Hurricane Irma is a Category 3 storm," she said. "But over the coming days, it's going to get into that warmer water. That's going to help the storm intensify."

Puerto Ricans warned

Irma is expected to remain a "dangerous major hurricane" through the week and could directly affect the British and US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas, the agency said.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned the public on Sunday that the island could feel Irma's wrath around noon Wednesday.

Puerto Rico's disaster management agency (AEMEAD) is monitoring Irma and has opened an information hotline.

Florida governor says be prepared

It's too soon to know the impact Irma could have on the continental United States, where no warnings or watches are currently in effect.

"Regardless, everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place, as we are now near the peak of the season," the National Hurricane Center said.

Chinchar said Irma could impact not just the eastern coast of Florida, but also farther up the east coast.

"If there was a US landfall, we're talking a week from today," Chinchar said Monday.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged the state's residents to ensure their disaster supply kits were ready.

"FL knows how important it is to be prepared. Encourage your loved ones to have a plan ahead of any potential storm," Scott tweeted Sunday. "Disaster preparedness should be a priority for every Florida family."

Why Irma could be especially intense

Irma is a classic "Cape Verde hurricane," meaning it formed in the far eastern Atlantic, near the Cape Verde Islands (now known as the Cabo Verde Islands), before tracking all the way across the Atlantic, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.

And Cape Verde storms frequently become some of the largest and most intense hurricanes. Examples include Hurricane Hugo, Hurricane Floyd, and Hurricane Ivan.