Caribbean struck by Hurricane Irma

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- AFP
- AFP

The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history has made landfall in the Caribbean islands, as British tourists are evacuated from the region amid warnings the storm will be "potentially catastrophic".

The island of Barbuda was the first to bear the brunt of Hurricane Irma - a category five storm with winds of 185mph - early on Wednesday, churning along a path pointing to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly hitting Florida over the weekend.

A member of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) monitors the trajectory of Hurricane Irma in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic - Credit: RICARDO ROJAS/Reuters
A member of the Emergency Operations Committee monitors the trajectory of Hurricane Irma in the Dominican Republic Credit: RICARDO ROJAS/Reuters

The eye of the hurricane passed over Barbuda at around 1.47am (5.47am BST). Heavy rain and howling winds raked the neighboring island of Antigua, sending debris flying as people huddled in their homes or government shelters.

The hurricane is so strong that it appeared on seismometers, which are designed to measure earthquakes. 

Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma's "onslaught" in a statement that ended with: "May God protect us all."

Hurricane Irma strengthens to Category 5, in pictures
Hurricane Irma strengthens to Category 5, in pictures

President Donald Trump has declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, while authorities in the Bahamas said they would evacuate six southern islands.

As the hurricane approached, Sir Richard Branson refused to leave his private Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, but admitted "almost nothing" can withstand a storm of Irma's force.

British holidaymakers in the Caribbean and Florida were urged to comply with evacuation orders. British Airways had sent an empty aircraft to bring customers back early - the full flight of 326 passengers touched down in the UK on Tuesday evening.

Hurricane Irma route
Hurricane Irma route

The US's National Hurricane Centre described Irma as "potentially catastrophic".

Irma comes after Hurricane Harvey, which caused devastation and flooding in the states of Texas and Louisiana and left at least 66 people dead.

Stay with us for the latest updates throughout the day.

8:46AM

Hurricane shows up on seismometers used to measure earthquakes

The hurricane is so strong that it appeared on seismometers, which are designed to measure earthquakes. 

Stephen Hicks, a seismologist at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton, said the category five storm was picked up on seismometer recordings taken on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

Dr Hicks later added that it was background noise, such as strong winds and crashing waves that caused seismometers to pick up Irma. 

8:40AM

Locals try to protect homes from hurricane winds

Briton Carolyne Coleby, who runs a guest house on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, said locals were desperately trying to secure their houses with boards and remove any potential debris from outside spaces.

She said: "The winds are starting to pick up and the clouds are coming in.

"It's going to be the strongest hurricane ever to cross the Atlantic. I've no idea what to expect."

People buy materials as they prepare for Hurricane Irma, in Bayamon - Credit: ALVIN BAEZ/Reuters
People buy materials as they prepare for Hurricane Irma, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico Credit: ALVIN BAEZ/Reuters
Erik Budman drills a nail into the plywood as he prepares for Hurricane Irma - Credit: Alan Diaz/AP
Erik Budman drills a nail into the plywood as he prepares for Hurricane Irma, in Key Largo, Florida Credit: Alan Diaz/AP
Employees of the Mercure Hotel fill sand bags on the Baie Nettle beach in Marigot - Credit: LIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP
Employees of the Mercure Hotel fill sand bags on the Baie Nettle beach in Marigot Credit: LIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP

8:36AM

'There is no panic': British newlyweds on honeymoon in Bahamas

Newlyweds Paul and Lorraine Phipps were celebrating their two-week honeymoon at a Sandals resort in the Bahamas as forecasters raised Irma's classification.

Mr Phipps, from Essex, said: "With the Bahamas being laid back there is no panic on the resort, the resort management team are meeting daily to discuss contingencies and will communicate once decisions have been made.

"During the hurricane we will either be moved to a building away from the beach front or moved to a centre downtown."

8:34AM

Residents seek refuge in community facilities built to withstand hurricanes

On the 108-square-mile island ofAntigua, people who live in low-lying areas were staying with friends and relatives on higher ground or sleeping in churches, schools and community facilities built to withstand hurricanes.

However, none of the shelters have yet been tested by Category 5 winds. 

 The International Space Station’s external cameras captured a dramatic view of Hurricane Irma - Credit: Twitter/Space_Station
The International Space Station’s external cameras captured a dramatic view of Hurricane Irma Credit: Twitter/Space_Station

Many homes in Antigua and Barbuda are not built on concrete foundations or have poorly constructed wooden roofs that are susceptible to wind damage. 

"I hear it's a Cat 5 now and I'm terrified," Antigua resident Carol Joseph said as she finished her last trip to the supermarket before seeking shelter. "I had to come back for more batteries because I don't know how long the current will be off."

8:28AM

Richard Branson to ride out hurricane on Necker Island

As the hurricane approached, Sir Richard Branson refused to leave his private Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands.

Writing in a blog, Sir Richard said the eye of the storm was "heading straight for Necker".

Sir Richard Branson on his Necker Island - Credit: Mark Pearson / Alamy
Sir Richard Branson on his Necker Island in better weather Credit: Mark Pearson / Alamy

He added: "On Necker Island we have constructed really strong buildings (with hurricane blinds) that should be able to handle extreme weather pretty well, though with a Category 5 hurricane almost nothing can withstand it.

"We had some lovely guests staying on Necker Island who have cut their trip short for safety reasons, and another group of guests have also postponed.

"I will be on Necker alongside our team, as I have been on the three times we have had hurricanes over the past 30 years." 

8:22AM

Holiday plans thrown into chaos as flights grounded

Antigua airport will be closed on Wednesday and San Juan airport, the busiest in Puerto Rico, has cancelled about 40 per cent of its flights in response to the hurricane.

As a result, thousands of travellers had their holiday plans thrown into chaos as airlines were forced to ground or divert flights.

British Airways sent an empty aircraft to bring customers back early - the full flight of 326 passengers touched down in the UK on Tuesday evening.

Hurricane Irma a record Category 5 storm churns across the Atlantic Ocean on a collision course with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands - Credit: NASA/Reuters
Hurricane Irma churns across the Atlantic Ocean on a collision course with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands Credit: NASA/Reuters

The UK Foreign Office has advised Britons in the hurricane's path to monitor its website and follow any advice issued by local officials as the historic storm progresses through the region.

Officials warned that Irma will bring hazardous conditions to Puerto Rico and north-eastern parts of the Caribbean from Wednesday and to Florida on Friday evening.

In a statement, the Foreign Office said: "The authorities in Puerto Rico and Florida have declared a state of emergency. You should follow the advice of the local authorities and any evacuation orders."

8:20AM

'Devastation is inevitable' from Hurricane Irma

The US's National Hurricane Centre described Irma as "potentially catastrophic".

Taylor Trogdon, a scientist for the organisation, tweeted: "I am at a complete and utter loss for words looking at Irma's appearance on satellite imagery."

Meanwhile, Nick Merianos, a meteorologist with American television network Weather Nation, tweeted on Tuesday night: "Codrington about to experience a direct hit from Hurricane Irma. Sint Maarten and Anguilla is next. Devastation is inevitable."

7:53AM

Most powerful ever Atlantic Ocean hurricane begins to batter Caribbean

If you're just joining us this morning, here's a recap of what we know from overnight.

British tourists are being brought back from the Caribbean as the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history, with winds of up to 185mph, began to batter the region.

The island of Barbuda was the first to bear the brunt of Irma, a Category 5 storm packing winds of 185mph, and it was expected to sweep through the northern Leeward Islands, east of Puerto Rico, on Tuesday night or early on Wednesday.

It was then forecast to make landfall in Florida on Saturday, the US National Hurricane Centre said.

Irma was set to strike the popular holiday destinations of Saint Martin and Saint-Barthelemy, with the French weather service warning of 12-metre (39-foot) swells and "extremely violent floods along the shore".

"Irma is a hurricane of unprecedented intensity in the Atlantic," said Meteo France, warning residents of the islands to stay indoors.

Meteo France said there would be a "major submersion of the low-lying parts of the coast", with the towns of Marigot and Grand Case on the Franco-Dutch island of Saint-Martin and Gustavia in French Saint-Barthelemy to "be particularly impacted".

The storm is expected to bring torrential rains, with 200-400 millimetres (8-16 inches) forecast.

Irma was continuing to strengthen, with gusts reaching 224mph near the northern Lesser Antilles.

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, which are usually home to warmer waters that fuel cyclones.

Hurricane Allen hit 190 mph in 1980, while 2005's Wilma, 1988's Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185 mph winds.

At 8 pm EDT (1am UK time), Irma was about 85 miles (140 km) east of Antigua in the eastern Caribbean and moving west at 15 miles per hour (24 kph), according to the NHC. 

A spokesman for the centre said there was a growing possibility that the storm's effects could be felt in Florida later this week and over the weekend, though it was still too early to be sure of its future track.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday approved pre-landfall emergency declarations for Florida and the American territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, mobilizing federal disaster relief efforts in all three jurisdictions ahead of Irma's arrival, the White House said.

Thousands of travellers had their holiday plans thrown into chaos as airlines were forced to ground or divert flights.

British Airways sent an empty aircraft to bring customers back early - the full flight of 326 passengers touched down in the UK on Tuesday evening.

The UK Foreign Office (FO) has advised Britons in the hurricane's path to monitor its website and follow any advice issued by local officials as the historic storm progresses through the region.

Officials warned that Irma will bring hazardous conditions to Puerto Rico and north-eastern parts of the Caribbean from Wednesday and to Florida on Friday evening.

National Weather Service reported Hurricane Irma had become a Category 5  - Credit: NOAA/ZUMA Wire/ZUMAPRESS
National Weather Service reported Hurricane Irma had become a category five Credit: NOAA/ZUMA Wire/ZUMAPRESS

In a statement the FO said: "The authorities in Puerto Rico and Florida have declared a state of emergency. You should follow the advice of the local authorities and any evacuation orders."

Experts warned the storm could dump up to 10 inches of rain, cause landslides and flash floods and generate waves of up to 23ft.

Shelves emptied at shops in Puerto Rico as officials began evacuations.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said: "The decisions that we make in the next couple of hours can make the difference between life and death. This is an extremely dangerous storm."

Residents on the US East Coast were urged to monitor the storm's progress in case it should turn northward toward Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas.

Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, said: "This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of Hurricane Harvey."

6:54AM

'155mph wind gusts to calm'

6:52AM

Barbuda hit first

6:33AM

Why is Hurricane Irma so powerful?

Warm water is fuel for hurricanes and Irma is over water that is 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) warmer than normal.

The 79 degree (26 Celsius) water that hurricanes need goes about 250 feet deep (80 meters), Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private forecasting service Weather Underground, told AP.

5:47AM

Meteorologists warn of  'unprecedented intensity'

Hurricane Irma is of "unprecedented intensity" in the Atlantic, meteorologists said on Wednesday, as they advised residents of tiny Caribbean islands to take shelter as the massive storm approached.

The Category Five hurricane is set to strike the popular holiday destinations of Saint Martin and Saint-Barthelemy, with the French weather service warning of 12-metre (39-foot) swells and "extremely violent floods along the shore".

"Irma is a hurricane of unprecedented intensity in the Atlantic," said Meteo France, warning residents of the islands to stay indoors.

Meteo France said there would be a "major submersion of the low-lying parts of the coast", with the towns of Marigot and Grand Case on the Franco-Dutch island of Saint-Martin and Gustavia in French Saint-Barthelemy to "be particularly impacted".

The storm is expected to bring torrential rains, with 200-400 millimetres (8-16 inches) forecast.

Irma was continuing to strengthen, with gusts reaching 360 kilometres per hour (224 miles per hour) near the northern Lesser Antilles.

4:32AM

'May God protect us all'

At the far northeastern edge of the Caribbean, authorities on the Leeward Islands of Antigua and Barbuda have cut power and are urging residents to shelter indoors as they braced for Hurricane Irma's first contact with land earlycon Wednesday.

Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma's "onslaught" in a statement that closed with: "May God protect us all."

People queue at a supermarket as they buy goods as part of preparations ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma in the French overseas island of Guadeloupe - Credit: AFP
People queue at a supermarket as they buy goods as part of preparations ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma in the French overseas island of Guadeloupe Credit: AFP

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said his government was evacuating the six islands in the south because authorities would not be able to help anyone caught in the "potentially catastrophic" wind, flooding and storm surge. People there would be flown to Nassau starting Wednesday in what he called the largest storm evacuation in the country's history.

"The price you may pay for not evacuating is your life or serious physical harm," Minnis said.

3:12AM

San Juan hunkers down

Along the beachfront of Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan, work crews are scrambling to cover windows with plywood and corrugated metal shutters along Avenida Ashford, a stretch of restaurants, hotels and six-story apartments.

"I am worried because this is the biggest storm we have seen here," Jonathan Negron, 41, told Reuters as he supervised workers boarding up his souvenir shop.

On a nearby beach, where calm surf on Tuesday belied the fury that Irma was forecast to bring, Denise Watkins, 52, of Midlothian, Texas, was reconsidering her vacation plans.

"I just got off the plane, and I already want to leave. I do not want to be here for this storm. I see everything covered up like that and it makes me nervous."

Men cover the entrance of a room with wooden boards in San Juan - Credit: EPA
Men cover the entrance of a room with wooden boards in San Juan Credit: EPA

1:26AM

Trump declares emergencies

President Donald Trump has declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as Hurricane Irma prepares for landfall.

The declarations authorize the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts in those places.

The dangerous Category 5 storm is wielding the most powerful winds ever recorded for a storm in the Atlantic Ocean. It is on a path that could take it toward Florida over the weekend.

Irma's size and strength put the entire state on notice Tuesday. Residents and visitors prepared to leave in anticipation of catastrophic winds and floods.

Puerto Rico's governor is also warning that the effects of Hurricane Irma could be catastrophic and calling the storm more dangerous than Hurricane Harvey.

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