At least nine people were killed as Hurricane Irma hammered a string of northeast Caribbean islands, thrashing them with rain and lashing with winds of up to 180 mph or 288 kmph, ahead of making landfall in the US state of Florida later this week.
The hurricane battered several islands, including Barbuda, St. Martin and the British Virgin Islands. The winds uprooted trees, ripped off roofs and windows from buildings, and slammed tall waves into hotels, CNN reported on Thursday.
Mass evacuations were taking place across Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm which is scheduled to hit the US state later this week. The National Hurricane Centre described Irma as “extremely dangerous”.
According to officials the hurricane has so far claimed nine lives. Six died on the island of St. Martin and two others on St. Barts, according to French officials. The islands are French-run. An infant in Barbuda also died in the storm, officials there said.
Barbuda suffered a major hit as about 95 per cent of its buildings were damaged in the hurricane, its Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.
He described the damage as “unprecedented” and “absolutely devastating”, estimating the damage to be $100 million.
Islands such as Antigua and Guadeloupe, St. Kitts and Nevis were also pounded by hurricane conditions.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the central and southeastern Bahamas. Emergency evacuations had been ordered for six southern islands — Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay and Ragged Island.
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.
This comes after Monroe county ordered “residents and all visitors, tourists and non-residents” to evacuate on Wednesday evening.
The evacuations have triggered an exodus from Florida, causing massive delays on roads leaving the Sunshine State.
Major queues were seen from Key Largo to Lake Park, Georgia, with the I-75 northbound at a complete standstill, epa photographers reported.
Florida Governor Rick Scott spoke to US President Donald Trump earlier this week to request a “pre-landfall emergency” for the state in order “to provide important resources and assistance from the federal government and free up funding sources for emergency protective measures”.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster followed suit, declaring an emergency for counties along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts to free up emergency federal funds and trigger response preparations for authorities along the coast.