Irma kills 10 in Caribbean as Florida is told to be vigilant
Hurricane Irma barrelled towards vulnerable Haiti last night after devastating a string of Caribbean islands and killing at least 10 people, as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century took aim at Florida.
With winds of about 290kmh, the storm has smashed through several small islands in the north-east Caribbean, including Barbuda, Saint Martin and the British and US Virgin Islands, ripping down trees and flattening homes and hospitals.
Winds dipped slightly yesterday as the storm lashed the Dominican Republic's north coast, according to the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC). Irma is expected to hit Florida as a very powerful Category 4 storm on Sunday, with storm surges and flooding beginning before then.
"The amount of wind that's coming in, we don't think we've seen anything quite like this," US president Donald Trump said after declaring a major disaster in the US Virgin Islands.
"To the people of Florida, we just want you to protect yourselves, be very, very vigilant and careful," added the president, who owns the waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach.
Across the Caribbean, authorities rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of people in the path of the storm, while on islands in its wake, shocked locals tried to comprehend the extent of the devastation.
In the US Virgin islands, a major hospital was obliterated by the wind and Barbuda, where one person died, was reduced "to rubble", according to prime minister Gaston Browne.
In the British overseas territory of Anguilla, another person was killed, and the hospital and airport, power and phone service were damaged, emergency service officials said.
French prime minister Edouard Philippe said four bodies were recovered on the French-Dutch island of Saint Martin, which was hit hard.
"It is an enormous disaster, 95pc of the island is destroyed. I am in shock," Daniel Gibbs, chairman of a local council on Saint Martin, told Radio Caribbean International.
French president Emmanuel Macron spoke with British prime minister Theresa May to coordinate an emergency humanitarian response.
Three people were killed in Puerto Rico and about two-thirds of the population lost their electricity, governor Ricardo Rossello said after the storm passed by the US territory's northern coast.
A surfer was also reported killed in Barbados.
The storm passed just to the north of the Hispaniola island shared by the Dominican Rep- ublic and Haiti, causing some damage to roofs and flooding. The first bands of rain and wind began to lash Haiti's normally bustling northern port city of Cap-Haitien last night.
"We're asking all those living in areas at risk to leave their homes. If you don't, you'll be evacuated by force," said president Jovenel Moise.
"When you go to shelters you'll find food, you'll have something to sleep on."
Irma's eye was forecast to pass over the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British territory, and the Bahamas before moving towards Cuba's sandy keys.
Amid criticism from many residents that the British government could have done more to help its territories, Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan said a Royal Navy ship would reach the affected islands last night with tents, vehicles and other relief equipment.