Hurricane Irma slams Caribbean islands as Category 5 storm
ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP):
Hurricane Irma roared into the Caribbean with record force early this morning, its 185-mph winds shaking homes and flooding buildings on a chain of small islands along a path toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and a possible direct hit on South Florida.
The strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded passed almost directly over the island of Barbuda, causing widespread flooding and downing trees.
France sent emergency food and water rations to the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, where Irma ripped off roofs and knocked out all electricity.
The regional authority for Guadeloupe and neighbouring islands said the fire station in Saint Barthelemy was flooded by more than three feet (1 meter) of water and no rescue vehicles could move. The government headquarters on Saint Martin was partially destroyed.
There were no immediate reports of casualties but the minister for overseas territories, Annick Girardin, said "We have a lot to fear for a certain number of our compatriots who unfortunately didn't want to listen to the protection measures and go to more secure sites ... We're preparing for the worst."
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the twin-island nation appears to have weathered its brush with Hurricane Irma with no deaths, though he noted that the government had only done a preliminary assessment of Barbuda.
There were widespread reports of property damage but Browne said the public and government had prepared well for the storm.
"We in Antigua have weathered the most powerful hurricane ever to storm its way through the Caribbean," the prime minister said. "And we have done so with stunning results."
The centre of the storm was about 15 miles (25 kilometres) west of St. Martin and Anguilla about 8 a.m. today, the hurricane centre said. It was heading west-northwest at 16 mph (26 kph).
As the eye of Hurricane Irma passed over Barbuda around 2 a.m., phone lines went down under heavy rain and howling winds that sent debris flying as people huddled in their homes or government shelters.
The storm ripped the roof off the island's police station, forcing officers to seek refuge in the fire station and at the community centre that served as an official shelter. The Category 5 storm also knocked out communication between islands.
The US National Hurricane Center said Irma's winds would fluctuate but the storm would likely remain at Category 4 or 5 strength for the next day or two.
The most dangerous winds, usually nearest to the eye, were forecast to pass near the northern Virgin Islands and near or just north of Puerto Rico today.
Also this morning, a new tropical storm formed in the Gulf of Mexico off Mexico's coast. Tropical Storm Katia had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph) with some strengthening forecast over the next two days. But the hurricane centre said Katia was expected to stay offshore through Friday morning.
And another tropical storm farther east in the Atlantic was expected to become a hurricane by tonight. Tropical Storm Jose's maximum sustained winds had increased to near 60 mph (95 kph).
The storm was about 1,255 miles (2,020 kilometres) east of the Lesser Antilles and was moving west near 13 mph (20 kph).