Irma upgraded to Category 4 as hurricane nears U.S. mainland

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Irma upgraded to Category 4 as hurricane nears U.S. mainland

Update: The hurricane has been downgraded to Category 2 today but still poses a significant risk to Florida and other parts of the Southeast. Click here to know more. 

Hurricane Irma was upgraded to Category 4 status in the early hours of this morning and is expected to remain powerful as it approaches the west coast of Florida. 

Map courtesy of NHC

The storm situation has been described by authorities as potentially "life-threatening" from the southern part of the Santee River in South Carolina down to the Florida Keys. 

Miami has already been hit by heavy rains and wind, while there have been reports the hurricane is set to make landfall at 7am.

"Irma is moving slowly northwestward toward the lower Florida Keys at near 6 mph (9 km/h)," the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an update at 2am.

"A turn toward the north-northwest with an increase in forward speed is expected through late Monday.

"On the forecast track, the center of Irma is expected to cross the Lower Florida Keys during the next several hours, and then move near or along the west coast of Florida this afternoon through Monday morning."

At the time of the update, the NHC reported hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 70 miles (110 km) from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 205 miles (335 km).

"The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline," the center said.

The majority of Florida's ports (Port of Key West, Port Everglades, PortMiami, Port of Palm Beach, Port Canaveral, Port Tampa Bay, Port Manatee, Port Tampa Bay, Port St. Pete and Port of Ft. Pierce) are closed under Port Condition Zulu, with no vessels able to enter or transit without the permission of the Coast Guard captain of the port (COTP).

On Friday the Produce Marketing Association's (PMA) chair John Oxford and CEO Cathy Burns sent out a message to the industry acknowledging the hurricane's catastrophic damage caused in the Caribbean, calling on produce and floral industry members and their families to stay safe.

"While the storm's impact has yet to be fully seen, it is likely that–based on Irma's projected track and the concentration of produce and floral growers, distributors, importers, transportation providers, foodservice operators and other related businesses in the storm's path–a good portion of the PMA and broader community will be affected in some way," Oxford and Burns said.

"After the storm passes, the PMA staff team will work to connect with members to get a sense of needs in their areas.

"As in all disasters, there will be many opportunities to help. PMA will contribute to relief efforts again, and we know you will respond as you are able.  Our industry's compassionate responses to the damage suffered by those in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Harvey have been inspiring and amazing.

"For those whose families and livelihoods are in the path of this unprecedented storm, our thoughts and prayers are with you.  Please stay safe."

Related stories: U.S.: Florida citrus industry "extremely nervous" about Irma

U.S.: Georgia Ports to close over the weekend due to Irma

Puerto Rico's banana, papaya fields damaged by Hurricane Irma



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