HURRICANE Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, churned across northern Caribbean islands on Wednesday with a potentially catastrophic mix of fierce winds, surf and rain, en route to a possible Florida landfall at the weekend.
Irma is expected to become the second powerful storm to thrash the U.S. mainland in as many weeks but its precise trajectory remained uncertain. Hurricane Harvey killed more than 60 people and caused damaged estimated as high as $180 billion when it hit Texas late last month.
The eye of Irma, a Category 5 storm packing winds of 185 miles per hour (295 km per hour), moved away from the island of Barbuda and toward the island of St. Martin, east of Puerto Rico, early on Wednesday, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami reported. It could hit Florida on Saturday.
“We are hunkered down and it is very windy … the wind is a major threat,” said Garfield Burford, the director of news at ABS TV and Radio on the island of Antigua, south of Barbuda. “So far, some roofs have been blown off.”
Most people who were on Antigua and Barbuda were without power and about 1,000 people were spending the night in shelters in Antigua, according to Burford.
“It’s very scary … most of the islands are dark so it’s a very, very frightening,” he said.
The eye of the hurricane went over Barbuda, which has a population of about 1,600 people, according to ABS radio.
“All hearts and all prayers and all minds go out to the Barbudans at this time because they experienced the full brunt,” a radio host said on the station early on Wednesday.