NEW: Irma's winds are back to 160 mph
The massive storm has caused at least 24 deaths in the Caribbean, officials say
Hurricane Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday as the core of the storm made landfall in Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, the US National Hurricane Center said.
Irma made landfall on the Camaguey archipelago of Cuba, the center said late Friday night.
The massive storm edged closer to US landfall in the Florida Keys after leaving a trail of devastation and death in much of the Caribbean as it advanced toward South Florida.
Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center say the storm’s wind speeds will increase after Irma passes Cuba then slips into the extremely warm waters near the Keys.
“Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe,” the National Weather Service tweeted.
There were worries the storm’s most powerful winds, on the northeastern side of the core, could pummel Miami, but it appears the city will avoid a direct hit, while still getting pounded by strong winds, storm surge and heavy rains.
At least 24 people were killed this week when Irma pummeled northern Caribbean islands such as Barbuda and the Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people – nearly 70% of the US territory’s utility customers – were left without power, the governor’s office said.
Irma slammed the Turks and Caicos, and southeastern Bahamas early before it was off to pound northern Cuba and the central Bahamas.
Irma is expected be near the Florida Keys and South Florida by early Sunday, and many residents there have moved inland or to shelters. Many counties are under evacuation orders.
“If you have been ordered to evacuate, leave now. Not tonight, not in an hour, now,” Gov. Rick Scott said Friday night. Staying in homes could subject residents to storm surge as high as 12 feet, the governor added.
Forecasters have advised that the storm’s potential path could change and residents should realize that most of Florida will feel its impact.