SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Irma has strengthened into a Category 5 storm as it roared toward the northeast Caribbean on a path toward the US.

Irma’s maximum sustained winds increased to 175mph (280 kph) early Tuesday. It was centred about 270 miles (440 kilometres) east of Antigua and moving west at 14 mph (22 kph).

Authorities warned that the storm could dump up to 10 inches (25 centimetres) of rain, cause landslides and flash floods and generate waves of up to 23 feet (7 metres). Government officials began evacuations in certain islands.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello warned that all decisions taken in the next couple of hours would make a difference between life and death.

States of emergency were declared in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and all of Florida.