At least two people have died and two others have been seriously hurt on Saint Martin Island from Hurricane Irma, French authorities have announced.
Hurricane has caused considerable damage on French island territories in the Caribbean, French president Emmanuel Macron says. The impact of Irma on St Martin and St Barts would be “hard and cruel”, he added. His overseas affairs minister later confirmed the first victims of the storm.
The category five hurricane, the highest possible level, is now passing over the northern Virgin Islands. The most powerful storm in a decade, with wind speeds of 295km/h, is also forecast by the US National Hurricane Center to pass near or just north of Puerto Rico, then near or just north of the coast of the Dominican Republic on Thursday.
Thousands of people have been evacuated from at-risk areas across the Caribbean. Residents have flocked to shops for food, water, and emergency supplies, and airports have closed on several islands which are popular holiday destinations. In the United States, Florida’s Key West area has ordered a mandatory evacuation, with landfall expected at the weekend. President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency for Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, mobilizing federal disaster relief efforts and allowing additional funds. Trump said he and aides were monitoring Irma’s progress. “But it looks like it could be something that will not be good,” he told reporters at the White House.
Irma began lashing Puerto Rico with rain and winds exceeding 300 km/h. Governor Ricardo Rossello told residents to stay inside as the storm bore down on the island. “There is no reason to be on the street,” he said. Many businesses in the capital San Juan were closed and many buildings were covered with storm shutters. Occasional shoppers were out making final purchases of water, ice and food to prepare for what could be several days without power.
After hurricane made landfall on the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, emergency officials reported three injuries and minimal damage, with some roofs blown off. Prime Minister Gaston Browne said flights would resume from the airport Wednesday afternoon. Many of the Caribbean’s Leeward Islands were under a hurricane watch, including the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas.
Seeing multiple storms developing in the same area of the Atlantic in close succession is not uncommon. Experts worry because of the strength of the hurricanes, with Harvey making landfall in the US as a category four. There have never been two category four storms on the US mainland during the same season.