Reports of fatalities and widespread damage in northern Caribbean islands began to emerge Wednesday night after Hurricane Irma blasted through, packing devastating winds and rain.
“Barbuda is literally rubble,” Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda told an interviewer with ABS TV/Radio Antigua.
“The entire housing stock was damaged,” Browne said after visiting the island. “It is just a total devastation.”
About 1,800 people live on Barbuda, Browne said, adding that there currently is no water or phone service for residents. He said one fatality, an infant, had been confirmed.
Charles Fernandez, minister of foreign affairs and international trade for Antigua and Barbuda, told ABS that destruction on Barbuda was “upwards of 90%.”
At least two people died and two others were seriously injured on St. Barts and St. Martin, said French Overseas Affairs Minister Annick Girardin. The islands are French overseas collectivities.
Irma destroyed government buildings, tore roofs from houses and left northern Caribbean islands without power or communications.
Antigua, Barbuda, St. Martin/St. Maarten and St. Barts felt the fury of the Category 5 storm, one of the strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic, according to updates from the region.
French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said some of the strongest buildings on the island of 75,000 people had been destroyed, boding ill for weaker structures on St. Martin.
“In terms of material damage, the four strongest buildings on the island of St. Martin have been destroyed,” which meant that weaker structures likely had been damaged or destroyed, he told reporters.
The firehouse in St. Barts is under a meter of water and is out of service, according to an update posted to Twitter by the government of the neighboring French territory, Guadeloupe.
“Firefighters have taken shelter in an upstairs room. A number of houses have suffered damage, roofs have been ripped out. Total loss of electricity,” it said.
The mayor’s office in St. Martin has been damaged, the update from Guadeloupe said, and the mayor and 23 others took shelter in a concrete-walled room.
The island has been without electricity since 6 a.m. local time, it said.
Virginia Barreras told CNN she was riding out the storm in a hotel in St. Martin.
“The palm trees are bent over and (I) can’t see anything but white,” she said before Irma’s core passed over the island. “The walls shake when the wind blows hard, and we can hear debris being thrown around.”
Footage posted to YouTube by PTZtv.com from Maho Beach, St. Maarten, showed winds so powerful they reportedly took out the webcam filming the scene.
Fallen trees, flash flooding
Irma’s core, with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph — well above the 157 mph threshold of a Category 5 — slammed Barbuda before hitting St. Martin and Anguilla.
Keithley Meade, director of the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Services, said, “Barbuda was heavily damaged by Irma. So badly damaged that there is no communication, so we don’t know how much.”
After slamming St. Martin, Anguilla and St. Kitts and Nevis, the storm was expected to move near the British Virgin Islands and northern US Virgin Islands.
The storm’s center was then expected to pass near or just north of Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon and evening.
Forecasters warn that Irma’s likely path will be near the Turks and Caicos Islands 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.