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A geocolor image of Hurricane Irma, captured by GOES-16 and released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Sept. 5, 2017 (NOAA via AP)

Early Wednesday morning Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, made landfall in the Caribbean, first slamming into Antigua and Barbuda before moving over St. Martin, Anguilla and parts of the British Virgin Islands. It's now barreling toward Puerto Rico, and is expect to hit just north of the island Wednesday afternoon. Irma's heavy rain and strong winds, which have reached a sustained maximum of 185 mph, have made it the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic.

Irma's trajectory: The storm, which the National Hurricane Center has declared "potentially catastrophic," is expected to hit Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turks and Caicos, and Cuba before reaching Florida and the Southeast U.S. this weekend, at which point it's expected to weaken to a Category 4 hurricane.

Meanwhile, two other storms are also building momentum in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Jose is expected to become a hurricane by Wednesday night, and Tropical Storm Katia is strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico.

President Trump on Twitter Wednesday morning: "Watching Hurricane closely. My team, which has done, and is doing, such a good job in Texas, is already in Florida. No rest for the weary! ... Hurricane looks like largest ever recorded in the Atlantic!"

Mandatory evacuations have already begun in parts of southern Florida, including in the Keys, where 25,000 people have already left, according to Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Scott also said he deployed 1,000 National Guard members in preparation for the storm, and 7,000 more will be activated on Friday. President Trump has also approved disaster declarations for Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, all of which are at risk of being hit head on.

Live updates:

  • An electric company in Puerto Rico warned that the island could be without power for four to six months, per the Miami Herald. The government also said it's prepared to open 456 shelters that can house 62,000 people.
  • In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp ordered a 36-hour curfew beginning Wednesday at 6 a.m. local time.
  • Emergency evacuations have been ordered for six southern islands in the Bahamas. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis called it "the largest such evacuation in the history of the country."
  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged residents Wednesday not to focus on the exact path of the storm. "A storm of this size could have effects statewide and everyone must be prepared."
  • South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has declared a state of emergency to prepare for the storm.
  • Note: Hurricane Harvey, at its strongest, was a Category 4 hurricane. Irma is even stronger at a Category 5.

Go deeper in the Axios stream:

Go deeper

Symone Sanders leaving VP's office

Vice President Kamala Harris and her press secretary Symone Sanders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving the VP’s office by the end of this year, three White House officials told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The VP has faced an onslaught of criticism in her first year centered on her leadership and staff, adding to the suggestion, she’s not the Democratic Party’s preferred nominee for 2024.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 3 hours ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP fights itself on shutdown politics

Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.