Hurricane watches are expected to be issued for parts of Florida sometime Thursday as the forecast track for Hurricane Irma continues to bring the powerful Category 5 storm perilously close to the state.
The National Hurricane Center said Irma was moving west-northwest off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic as of the 5 a.m. advisory.
Irma, which is larger than Florida, remained a Category 5 storm moving west-northwest at 17 mph. It was located 95 miles north of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
"I can tell you it is still a very powerful storm," Local 10 News meteorologist Julie Durda said.
Irma is expected to impact South Florida by the weekend as a Category 3 or 4 storm.
"No matter what, South Florida, we are going to be dealing with the direct impacts from this system," Durda said.
The current forecast track calls for Irma to take a turn to the north, possibly making landfall near Key Largo.
Local 10 News meteorologist Luke Dorris said forecasters at the National Hurricane Center will likely issue hurricane watches for South Florida as early as the next advisory.
Forecasters said the center of the storm should pass north of the island of Hispaniola later Thursday and be near the central Bahamas by Friday.
Irma could hug the Florida coast and impact Georgia and the Carolinas by early next week.
Authorities in the Caribbean linked at least nine deaths to the storm, which left a trail of destruction over the islands on its path. Very few buildings were left standing on the island of Barbuda.
"Either they were totally demolished or they would have lost their roof," Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said. "It is just really a horrendous situation."
After the hurricane decimated Barbuda, the storm left nearly 900,000 people in Puerto Rico without power. Authorities said it could take up to six months to be able to repair the damage.
Puerto Rico dodged the eye wall of the storm, but the bands of the storm pounded the island causing some property damage with storm surge and large breaking waves.