Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms, cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least 10 people dead and thousands homeless. The hurricane is headed towards Florida.
Irma weakened only slightly on Thursday morning and remained a powerful Category 5 storm with winds of 180 mph (285 kph), according to the US National Hurricane Center.
Preempting destruction, Governor of Florida has declared an emergency and officials are imposing mandatory evacuation orders for parts of the Miami metro area and the Florida Keys. Forecasters said the storm could devastate the entire Atlantic coast of Florida and rage on into Georgia and South Carolina.
“This could easily be the most costly storm in US history, which is saying a lot considering what just happened two weeks ago,” said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.
Irma blacked out much of Puerto Rico, raking the US territory with heavy wind and rain while staying just out to sea, and it headed early today toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
US President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico as well as the US Virgin Islands and Florida where he said the outlook was “not good.”
To the east, authorities struggled to get aid to small Caribbean islands devastated by the storm’s record 185 mph (298 kph) winds. Communications were difficult with areas hit by Irma, and information on damage trickled out.
Nearly every building on Barbuda was damaged when the hurricane’s core crossed almost directly over the island early yesterday and about 60 per cent of its roughly 1,400 residents were left homeless, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told The Associated Press.
“It is just really a horrendous situation,” Browne said after returning to Antigua from a plane trip to the neighbouring island.
He said roads and telecommunications systems were wrecked and recovery would take months, if not years.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told France Info radio that the toll in Saint- Martin and Saint-Barthelemy could be higher because rescue teams have yet to finish their inspection of the islands.
It flattened buildings and uprooted trees in the Carribean islands.
At a news conference, Collomb also said 100,000 food rations have been sent to the islands, the equivalent of four days of supplies.
“It’s a tragedy, we’ll need to rebuild both islands,” he said. “Most of the schools have been destroyed.”
French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said he will go to the islands as soon as weather permits.
In the United Kingdom, the government said Irma inflicted “severe and in places critical” damage to the British overseas territory of Anguilla. Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan said the Caribbean island took the full force of the hurricane.
He told lawmakers that the British Virgin islands had also suffered “severe damage.”
(With inputs from agencies)