Washington, Sep 7 (IANS) Hurricane Irma has hammered a string of northeast Caribbean islands, thrashing them with rain and winds of up to 180 mph (288 kmph), leaving a trail of chaos, wreckage and flooding from Barbuda to Puerto Rico, ahead of making a landfall in the US state of Florida later this week.
According to officials, by Thursday morning the hurricane had claimed 10 lives. The hurricane battered several islands, including Barbuda, St. Barthélemy, St. Martin, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands and raked the US’ Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico with heavy winds and torrential rain, the Washington Post reported.
Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said Irma had destroyed 95 per cent of Barbuda, an island with about 1,600 people. Barbuda is “barely inhabitable” with nearly all its buildings damaged, he said.
Puerto Rico was spared a direct hit, but it still got lashed by strong winds and torrential rains, leading to hundreds of thousands without power, officials said.
Already one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, Irma could become one of the most destructive as well, depending on its path, and officials from Turks and Caicos to Florida advised people to heed advisories to evacuate to shelters and higher ground, the report said.
The National Hurricane Centre described the hurricane as “potentially catastrophic”. Eight people died on the island of St. Martin, that comprises the French territory of Saint-Martin, and the Dutch section Sint-Maarten.
A top local official of Saint-Martin said that “95 per cent of the island was destroyed”. Sint-Maarten’s airport, the third largest in the Caribbean, was seriously damaged.
On the islands of Barbuda and Anguilla, meanwhile, at least one death was reported on each.
Irma “will bring life-threatening wind, storm surge and rainfall hazards” to the northern coast of Hispaniola, which includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti, on Thursday, the Hurricane Centre warned.
Mass evacuations were taking place across Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm which is scheduled to hit the US state over the weekend.
Though Irma’s path is uncertain, forecasters said it could turn towards Florida over the weekend. Officials there ordered evacuations and schools were also shut down.
Miami-Dade county issued its first evacuation in 12 years for 7 a.m., on Thursday morning for various towns along the coast, including Miami Beach, in advance of the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.
US President Donald Trump said he and his aides were monitoring Irma’s progress. “But it looks like it could be something that will be not good,” he told reporters at the White House.
Flights to and from several airports in Florida were being suspended, while Orlando’s international airport said that commercial flights would stop from Saturday, the US media reported.
A state of emergency had been declared for Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, mobilising federal disaster relief efforts.