The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history bore down on the islands of the north-east Caribbean.
Leeward Islands of Antigua and Barbuda braced for category 5 storm, which then heads for Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.
At the far north-eastern edge of the Caribbean, authorities on the Leeward Islands of Antigua and Barbuda cut power and urged residents to shelter indoors as they braced for Hurricane Irma’s first contact with land early on Wednesday.
Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma’s “onslaught” in a statement that closed with: “May God protect us all.”
The category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 185mph (295kph) by early Tuesday evening, according to the US National Hurricane Center.
Category 5 hurricanes are rare and are capable of inflicting life-threatening winds, storm surges and rainfall. Hurricane Harvey, which last week devastated Houston, was category 4.
A resident from Antigua says: “I hear it’s a Cat 5 now and I’m terrified. I had to come back for more batteries because I don’t know how long the current will be off.”
US president Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Why is Irma so powerful?
Warm water is fuel for hurricanes and Irma is over water that is one degree celsius (1.8F) warmer than normal. The 26C (79F) water that hurricanes need goes about 250 feet deep (80m).
Four other storms have had winds as strong in the overall Atlantic region but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico -where the water is usually wamer. Hurricane Allen hit 190mph in 1980, while 2005’s Wilma, 1988’s Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185mph winds.
Heavy winds, huge waves and downpours
The storm’s eye was expected to pass about 50 miles (80km) from Puerto Rico late on Wednesday. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 60 miles (95km) from Irma’s centre and tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 175 miles (280km).
The northern Leeward Islands were expected to see waves as high as 11 feet (3.3 metres), while the Turks and Caicos Islands and south-eastern Bahamas could see towering 20-foot (six-metre) waves later in the week.
Irma is expected to dump up to 18 inches (45cm) of rain in some areas when it hits land and may cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.
Schools and government offices in French overseas territory Guadeloupe have been ordered shut, while hospitals are stocking up on medicines, food and drinking water. People living on shorelines will be moved to safety.
The popular holiday destinations of Saint Barthelemy and St Maarten are expected to be especially hard hit. The Dutch defense minister sent two vessels, including one equipped with a helicopter to help. 11,000 people living on both islands have alread been evacuated.
Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma’s magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida. Storm damage could leave some areas of Puerto Rico without electricity for about a week and others for four to six months.
Path of Hurricane Irma
The eye of the storm was expected to roar westward on a path taking it north of millions of people in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba.
The storm seemed almost certain to hit the United States by early next week.
Season is just starting
Meanwhile a new tropical storm JOSE also formed in the Atlantic on Tuesday, to the east of Irma and is expected to become a hurricane by Friday. A tropical depression formed in the south-western Gulf of Mexico and should make landfall in Mexico on Saturday.
So if you haven’t start it yet, get ready for SUPER HURRICANE IRMA. And I would rather say: Get out of Florida before it’s too late. On Monday, Scott declared a state of emergency in all of Florida’s 67 counties.