‘Major damage’ as 185mph Irma batters Caribbean

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The eye of Hurricane Irma first roared over Barbuda at 1.47am local time, also hitting the nearby island of Antigua.

St Barts and St Martin were next to be hit, as low-lying areas flooded, according to the French weather office.

:: IRMA LIVE: Latest updates as Caribbean islands hunker down

Footage from Anguilla

Video:Hurricane Irma batters Anguilla

All government buildings on the French-run side of the island of St Martin had been destroyed, according to French interior minister Gerard Collomb.

“We know that the four most solid buildings on the island have been destroyed which means that more rustic structures have probably been completely or partially destroyed,” he told reporters.

French overseas territories minister Annick Girardin said Irma had caused “major damage” on several islands.

Here are the latest estimates of when tropical-storm-force winds could arrive & are most likely to arrive with #Irmahttps://t.co/tW4KeGdBFbpic.twitter.com/lphk4Nm9x8

— NHC Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic) September 5, 2017

The hurricane has maintained category five strength with sustained winds near 185mph (295kph), the US National Hurricane Centre said.

According to some weather experts, the hurricane covers an area bigger than the UK and Ireland.

The weather station on St Barts measured winds of 151mph (244kph) before its monitoring equipment was destroyed by the storm.

Hurricane Irma as seen from the ISS

Video:Hurricane Irma as seen from space

“We are hunkered down and it is very windy… So far, some roofs have been blown off,” said Garfield Burford from Antigua and Barbuda’s ABS TV and Radio.

Most people were without power and around 1,000 people on Antigua were spending the night in shelters, Mr Burford said.

“It’s very scary… most of the islands are dark, so it’s very, very frightening,” he added.

The wind sent debris flying as people huddled in their homes, many of which do not have concrete foundations and only wooden roofs.

Category 5 #Irma with 185-mph winds- #Hurricane preparations in the NE Leeward Islands should be nearing completion https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFbpic.twitter.com/tMhL53YX5I

— NHC Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic) September 5, 2017

Tourists in the area were evacuated on Tuesday before the hurricane arrived.

British Airways sent an empty aircraft to the region, bringing 326 customers back to the UK, and a Virgin Atlantic flight left Antigua five hours early to avoid the storm.

The Foreign Office said Britons should follow the advice of authorities and heed evacuation orders.


Video:Flying into the eye of the hurricane

Irma is currently heading through the Caribbean towards Florida and may make landfall at the weekend, but its precise path is uncertain.

The most dangerous winds are forecast to pass near the northern Virgin Islands and near or just north of Puerto Rico during the day on Wednesday.

Damage in Saint Martin
Image:St Martin was directly hit by the storm

Hurricane warnings are in place on several islands, including the British Overseas Territory of Anguilla, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

President Trump has declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

US Virgin Islands
Image:The US Virgin Islands are in the path of the hurricane

If it hits Florida it will be the second powerful storm to hit the US mainland in two weeks after Hurricane Harvey caused devastation and led to the deaths of 60 people.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis has also said the government there will evacuate six southern islands as authorities would not be able to help people caught in “potentially catastrophic” conditions.

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