Weather

Hurricane Irma: Caribbean weathers storm as Florida prepares for worst

The record-breaking storm has plowed through the French Caribbean, killing several people and leaving destruction in its wake. From France to the US, officials have warned that the Category 5 storm may be disastrous.

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Hurricane Irma: Into the eye of the storm

A series of islands in the Caribbean were left in ruins on Wednesday after being lashed by one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century.

The Category 5 Hurricane Irma killed at least 10 people on four different islands, with the dual-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda being hit especially hard.

"It is just total devastation, Barbuda now is literally rubble," Prime Minister Gaston Browne said in the aftermath of the storm, which had sustained wind speeds of 185 miles (300 kilometers) an hour.

Read more: Hurricane Harvey: Unexpected fallout from a climate disaster

Ninety-five percent of properties in Barbuda were damaged, with up to 30 percent demolished, Browne told CNN. The damage has left roughly 60 percent of the island's roughly 1,400 people homeless.

At least one person, a 2-year-old child, died on Barbuda, with another casualty reported on Anguilla.

Nearby St. Martin suffered similar destruction, with officials reporting at least eight people dead. The island is currently "unreachable," because of the devastation dealt to the airport and the harbor, said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

"It's an enormous catastrophe. Ninety-five percent of the island is destroyed. I'm in shock. It's frightening," top local official Daniel Gibbs told Radio Caribbean International.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) shared images of the storm as they passed overhead.

Social media users shared images of the storm and its aftermath from the various Caribbean islands it hit.

French officials said they feared the worst for France's Caribbean territories.

"We have a lot to fear for a certain number of our compatriots who unfortunately didn't want to listen to the protection measures and go to more secure sites … We're preparing for the worst," said Annick Girardin, France's minister for overseas territories.

France said it sent emergency food and water rations to its territories in the Caribbean ahead of the hurricane's arrival, and will provide support in the wake of the storm.

Two more hurricanes brewing

Map illustrating Hurricane Irma's likely path

As Irma roared past Puerto Rico on Wednesday, authorities were predicting it would reach Florida on Saturday or Sunday as a Category 4 storm. Florida, Georgia an declared a state of emergency ahe

More than 900,000 people in the US territory were left without power early on Thursday morning, while another 50,000 were without water, according to the island's emergency management agency. 

The US National Weather Service said that Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma's magnitude since 1928.

Read more: Hurricane Harvey: Is climate change to blame?

"The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we've ever seen," said Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello. "A lot of infrastructure won't be able to withstand this kind of force."

Meanwhile, two other hurricanes were nearing North America on Thursday: Katia in the Gulf of Mexico and Hurricane Jose in the open Atlantic. Mexican authorities have issued a warning over Katia in the state of Veracruz, with Irma ripping through the Caribbean and Jose also threatening the tropical islands that appear to lay on his path. On Thursday, however, the French weather service said it will likely bypass land.

'Could be not good, believe me, not good'

In the US, Florida residents braced for the storm after the state's governor, Rick Scott, declared a statewide emergency, warning of the severity of the storm.

"The storm is bigger, faster and stronger than Hurricane Andrew," said Scott, referring to a storm that devastated the state in 1992 and was the costliest to make landfall in the US until Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

US President Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, saying Irma "looks like it could be something that could be not good, believe me, not good." US states of Georgia and North and South Carolina also declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.

Irma could become the second major hurricane to make landfall in the US in less than two weeks. Hurricane Harvey struck Texas last week, killing more than 60 people and displacing roughly 1 million.

aw, ls/bw (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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