The strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever measured has slammed into Caribbean islands, causing “major damage” en route to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for the US state of Florida.
Hurricane Irma caused the death of at least two people in the islands of Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin, Annick Girardin, the French overseas territories minister, said on Wednesday.
“We’re talking about two dead and two seriously injured for now. Obviously the situation can change very quickly,” Girardin told reporters before boarding a plane for the region, adding that the powerful storm had destroyed homes and flooded streets.
Located south of the island of Anguilla, Saint Martin – “Sint Maarten” in Dutch – is divided between the France and the Netherlands. Saint Barthelemy, which lies to the southeast of Saint Martin, is administered with the status of a French collectivity, as is the French part of Saint Martin.
As the rare Category Five storm barreled its way across the Caribbean, it brought gusting winds of up to 294 kilometres per hour, weather experts said.
The hurricane made landfall just before 06:00 GMT in Barbuda, part of the twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Garfield Burford, director of news at government-owned broadcaster ABS TV in Antigua and Barbuda, told Al Jazeera that the country has been spared the worse from the “ferocious storm” as emergency services assess damages.
“It was quite a bit of an experience overnight for us, but all things considered Antigua and Barbuda missed a bullet,” he said from Antigua’s capital, St. John. “It could’ve been much worse.”
Burford added: “There have been a few minor injuries that were treated at the hospital but thankfully, no deaths or serious injuries and that itself is a mricale when you consider the ferocity of the storm.”