Four of the strongest buildings on the Caribbean island of St. Martin have been destroyed by Hurricane Irma, French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said at a news conference Wednesday.
It’s likely that all other older buildings there have at least been damaged, he said.
About half of the island is a French overseas collectivity, and the remainder is a constituent country of the Netherlands.
As Hurricane Irma’s eye roars away from the tiny island of Barbuda and toward St. Martin, residents along its path scrambled to evacuate while stocking up on water, food and gas.
The massive eye stared down on Barbuda early Wednesday, thrashing it with howling winds before it marched along its path on the Caribbean.
Irma’s eye was bigger than Barbuda, CNN meteorologist Jenn Varian said. It packed winds of 185 mph, making it one of the most powerful Atlantic storms ever recorded.
The Category 5 hurricane is “potentially catastrophic,” especially if it hits islands at high tides, the National Hurricane Center said.
— At least two people died and two others were seriously injured in the islands of St. Barts and St. Martin, French Overseas Affairs Minister Annick Girardin said. Another person died in Barbuda, where as many as 90% of structures were damaged, said Prime Minister Gaston Browne, according to broadcaster ABS Television and Radio.
— At 5 p.m. ET, Irma’s core was spinning about 20 miles east of St. Thomas, with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph.
— Meanwhile, Jose, in the open Atlantic far to the southeast of Irma, became a hurricane. Katia, in the Gulf of Mexico, also became a hurricane.
— In the US Virgin Islands, Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp ordered a 36-hour curfew.
— On Thursday, Irma is likely to be near the Dominican Republic’s and Haiti’s northern coasts. That night, it is expected to be near the Turks and Caicos islands and the southeastern Bahamas, where storm surges of up to 20 feet are possible, the hurricane center said.
— It’s too early to tell whether it will make landfall on the US mainland. Computer models show it could churn near Florida’s east coast by late Sunday, and forecasters warn the core still could hit the Florida peninsula.
— In Broward County, Florida, a mandatory evacuation will go into effect at noon Thursday for areas east of Federal Highway, Mayor Barbara Sharief said. The evacuation zone includes low-lying areas and mobile homes in the county, which includes Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, and Pompano Beach and Deerfield Beach.
— Floridians should heed any evacuation order, Gov. Rick Scott said. “(A) storm surge could cover your house. We can rebuild homes — we cannot rebuild your family,” he said.
— In the US Virgin Islands, Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp ordered a 36-hour curfew that was starting at 6 a.m. local time Wednesday.
— In the Bahamas, emergency evacuations have been ordered for six southern islands — Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay and Ragged Island.
— “This is the largest such evacuation in the history of the country,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said.
— Bahamian officials also canceled vacation time for police and defense forces.
— Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jose, in the open Atlantic far to the southeast of Irma, is expected to become a hurricane by Wednesday night.
— “Interests in the Leeward Islands should monitor the progress of Jose,” the National Hurricane Center said.
Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas
Forecasters warn that Irma’s likely path will be near the Turks and Caicos on Thursday and the southeastern Bahamas on Friday — and that the destruction could be devastating.
In the Bahamas, emergency evacuations have been ordered for six southern islands — Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay and Ragged Island.
“This is the largest such evacuation in the history of the country,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said.
“Some of the (Bahamian) islands aren’t more than 9 feet (above sea level). Storm surges there may be 20 feet. You get the idea what’s going to happen to those islands,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.
Puerto Rico: Irma’s rains begin
Storm surge is a concern for the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Central Bahamas (up to 20 feet), as is heavy rain (up to 20 inches in the Virgin Islands, and up to 20 in parts of Puerto Rico).
Rosselló, Puerto Rico’s governor, declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard.
Puerto Ricans bracing for the high-octane winds and slashing rainfall started to feel Irma’s effects Wednesday afternoon. Strong breezes shook rickety rooftops and downpours battered the coast.
CNN journalists driving in San Juan didn’t see any other cars, other than a few police vehicles.
Residents prepped their homes for safety and gathered food supplies and belongings.
Lines snaked around stores as people purchased water, food, plywood, batteries and power generators.
Florida: Evacuations and a rush for supplies
Many Floridians spent Wednesday stocking up on food or making plans to head inland, and in some cases were leaving gas stations out of fuel and stores without needed supplies.
Katherine Pina said four stores she visited in Fort Lauderdale were out of bottled water. She said she saw one man reselling jugs of water for $5.
“People are doing an opportunity to get some money, I guess,” she said.
Workers at five gas stations in Miami Beach told CNN by phone Wednesday that all were out of fuel. One said the station expected to receive more Wednesday night; another said a resupply was coming Thursday morning.
Some South Florida communities ordered evacuations. Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, ordered visitors to head home Wednesday, with residents told to leave later in the evening.
In Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale and other cities north of Miami, a mandatory evacuation will go into effect at noon Thursday for areas east of Federal Highway, Mayor Barbara Sharief said. The evacuation zone includes low-lying areas.