SAN JUAN (Agencies) – Hurricane Irma ploughed past the Dominican Republic yesterday after devastating a string of Caribbean islands and killing at least 11 people as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century took aim at Florida.
With winds of around 290kph, the storm lashed several islands in the Caribbean, including Barbuda, Saint Martin and the British Virgin Islands, tearing down trees, flattening homes and causing widespread damage.
The eye of the hurricane passed north of Puerto Rico yesterday, battering it with high winds and heavy rains and leaving nearly 70 percent of the population without electricity, Governor Ricardo Rossello said.
Irma’s precise course remained uncertain but it was likely to be downgraded to a Category 4 storm by the time it makes landfall in Florida, according to the NHC.
Irma will have a “truly devastating” impact when it slams into the US, the head of the US emergency agency said yesterday. “The majority of people along the coast have never experienced a major hurricane like this. It will be truly devastating,” Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long told CNN.
Authorities in the Dominican Republic ordered the evacuation of towns along the northern Atlantic coast, as the storm ground toward tourist destination of Puerto Plata.
At least eight people were killed in the tiny French-Dutch island of Saint Martin, with 23 others injured, and the toll was likely to rise as emergency services reached isolated communities, officials said.
“It is an enormous disaster. Ninety-five percent of the island is destroyed. I am in shock,” Daniel Gibbs, chairman of a local council on Saint Martin, told Radio Caribbean International.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday to coordinate an emergency humanitarian response.
Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan said a Royal Navy ship is to reach the affected islands with tents, vehicles and other relief equipment.
“Anguilla received the hurricane’s full blast. The initial assessment is that the damage has been severe and in places critical,” he told parliament.
One person was killed on the island and roads were blocked, with damage to the hospital and airport, power and phone service, Anguilla emergency service officials said.
Irma was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the five most forceful storms to hit the Atlantic basin in 82 years, according to the NHC.
Florida emergency management officials began evacuations in advance of Irma’s expected arrival this weekend, ordering tourists to leave the Florida Keys.
US President Donald Trump approved emergency declarations for the state, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
The island of Barbuda was a scene of “total carnage”, said Prime Minister Gaston Browne, adding that the tiny two-island nation will seek international assistance.
Mr Browne told the BBC about half of Barbuda’s population of some 1,800 were homeless while nine out of 10 buildings had suffered some damage and many were destroyed.
“We flew into Barbuda only to see total carnage. It was easily one of the most emotionally painful experiences that I have had,” Mr Browne said in an interview on BBC Radio Four, adding that it would take months or years to restore some level of normalcy to the island.
Mr Browne said one person was killed on Barbuda. A surfer was also reported killed on Barbados.