Hurricane Irma, the most powerful hurricanes in recorded history, has already laid waste to several islands in the Caribbean, after making landfall less than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey — another so-called once-in-500-year event — devastated a huge swath of Southeast Texas.
The National Hurricane Center has called Hurricane Irma “extremely dangerous.”
With winds of up to 175 miles per hour, the Category 5 hurricane continued to bear down on the Caribbean on Thursday, leaving at least seven confirmed dead so far — four on the island of St Martin alone, The New York Times is reporting.
The governors of Florida and Puerto Rico declared states of emergency well ahead of landfall, at the beginning of the week. The governors of South Carolina and Georgia followed suit on Wednesday.
As of Thursday, more than two-thirds of Puerto Rican households were without power but the island nation has been spared, otherwise Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said on Thursday.
On Wednesday night, a St. Martin official told Radio Caribbean International that “95 percent of the island is destroyed.”
By Thursday afternoon, Irma’s winds had slowed slightly but, according to the National Hurricane Center, the hurricane will still be a Category 4 or 5 when it hits South Florida and the Keys, and a hurricane watch remains in effect for the entire region.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump declared a pre-landfall state of emergency in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Thank you @POTUS for approving FL's request for a pre-landfall emergency declaration, providing important federal resources & assistance.
— Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) September 6, 2017
The NHC is anticipating that the eye of the storm will “continue to move between Hispaniola and the Turks and Caicos this afternoon,” and “then move across the southeastern Bahamas by this evening, and then be near the central Bahamas by Friday.”
Evacuations began in several South Florida counties on Wednesday, following area-wide school closings.
Several coastal regions in Georgia were also ordered to evacuate.
Irma “is the kind of storm where you get thousands of lives lost,” Chuck Watson, a Georgia-based disaster modeler with Enki Research, told Bloomberg.
Jose and Katia, two other tropical storms brewing in the Atlantic, were upgraded to hurricane status on Wednesday.