Hurricane Irma is continuing to tear a deadly path through the Caribbean, causing widespread destruction and reducing buildings to rubble, on a track that could lead to a catastrophic strike on Florida.
The American state is bracing for the arrival of the Atlantic’s most deadly storm in history, which has already left at least 10 people dead and thousands homeless. Emergency chiefs warn it will have a “truly devastating” impact on the US.
The United Nations estimates that up to 37 million people could be affected by the category five hurricane, which was sustaining winds of 180mph as it moved off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic on Thursday.
Irma is moving at around 16mph on a course forecast to take it toward Turks and Caicos and the south-eastern Bahamas by Thursday evening – and near the Central Bahamas by Friday. Florida is braced for a possible direct hit from Saturday, with forecasters predicting it could strike the entire Atlantic coast and rage into Georgia and South Carolina.
On the small island of Barbuda, the category five hurricane destroyed nearly all buildings and left it “barely habitable” after striking in the early hours of Wednesday.
Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Barbuda, said the island is “literally rubble” amid scenes of “total carnage”. He added: “The entire housing stock was damaged. It is just total devastation.”
Officials warned that the island of Saint-Martin is “almost destroyed”. The death toll is expected to rise on both islands.
A British mother told of her fears for her two daughters – a pregnant hotel worker and an ex-beauty queen – who are missing on Barbuda and have not been heard from since Irma struck.
Irma blacked out much of Puerto Rico early on Thursday, covering the US territory with heavy wind and rain as it headed towards the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Meanwhile, two other storms have strengthened to become hurricanes. It is feared Hurricane Jose will bring winds of up to 129mph and is expected to follow a similar path when it arrives over the weekend.
While the Caribbean faces the possibility of being affected by a second major hurricane, Mexico is braced for the arrival of Hurricane Katia on Friday evening.
Irma will be ‘truly devastating’ for US, says emergency chief
Hurricane Irma will have a “truly devastating” impact when it slams into southern coastal areas of the United States, the head of the US emergency agency said on Thursday.
“The majority of people along the coast have never experienced a major hurricane like this,” said Brock Long, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “It will be truly devastating.”
Dutch PM describes scale of devastation on Caribbean island
The Dutch prime minister says Hurricane Irma was a storm of “epic proportions” when it slammed into the former Dutch colony of Saint-Maarten in the Caribbean and is appealing to Dutch citizens to donate to a relief fund set up by the Red Cross.
Speaking on Thursday after a meeting of the government’s crisis committee, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said there are no reports yet of casualties on the Dutch side of the island. He said the damage is huge, particularly on Saint-Maarten, with “widescale destruction of infrastructure, houses and businesses”.
He said: “There is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Houses are under water, cars are floating through the streets, inhabitants are sitting in the dark, in ruined houses and are cut off from the outside world.”
The Dutch military is preparing two aircraft to fly to the region to distribute vital aid to the shattered territory, which is home to some 40,000 people. However, the airport on the Dutch side of the island is badly damaged.
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