Puerto Rico declares state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Irma

(Reuters) - Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló on Monday declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in preparation for the arrival of Irma, a dangerous Category 3 hurricane.

Slideshow ( 6 images )

Irma, which is forecast to strengthen on Tuesday night, is set hit the U.S. territory on Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

“Despite the economic challenges Puerto Rico is facing, the approved budget has $15 million for the emergency fund,” Rosselló said in a statement.

The island of about 3.4 million people has 456 emergency shelters prepared to house up to 62,100 people.

To help residents prepare for the storm, the Puerto Rican government activated a price freeze on basic necessities, including food and water, medicines, power generators and batteries.

A Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale means sustained winds of 111-129 miles per hour (178-208 kph) with “devastating” outcomes, including uprooted trees, water and electricity outages, and significant property damage, according to the Miami-based hurricane center.

The storm will be the second powerful hurricane to thrash the United States and its territories in as many weeks.

Residents in Texas and Louisiana are still reeling from the catastrophic effects of the deadly Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25 and dumped several feet (meters) of rain, destroying thousands of homes and businesses.

The intensifying Hurricane Irma also threatens to pummel the Caribbean, Florida and the U.S. East Coast, according to the National Hurricane Center, which cautioned that it was still too early to forecast its exact path or what effects it might have on the continental United States.

“There is an increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys later this week and this weekend. In addition, rough surf and dangerous marine conditions will begin to affect the southeastern U.S. coast by later this week,” the center said.

Reporting by Alana Wise in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler and Nick Zieminski