Hurricane Irma plowed past the Dominican Republic yesterday after devastating a string of Caribbean islands and killing at least 11 people as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century took aim at Florida.
With winds of around 180 mph (290 kph), the storm lashed several small islands in the northeast Caribbean, including Barbuda, St. Martin and the British Virgin Islands, tearing down trees, flattening homes and causing widespread damage.
The eye of the hurricane passed north of Puerto Rico early yesterday, battering the United States territory with high winds and heavy rains and leaving nearly 70 percent of the population without electricity, Governor Ricardo Rossello said.
The eye of Irma was moving west-northwest off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic yesterday morning, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Irma’s precise course remained uncertain but it was likely to be downgraded to a Category 4 storm by the time it makes landfall in Florida, according to the NHC.
Irma has become a little less organized over the past few hours but the threat of a direct hurricane impact in Florida over the weekend and early next week was increasing, the NHC said. Authorities in the Dominican Republic ordered the evacuation of towns along the northern Atlantic coast, as the storm ground toward the port and tourist destination of Puerto Plata.
“There is a lot of wind and rain,” Puerto Plata Assistant District Attorney Juan Carlos Castro Hernandez told Reuters by telephone.”
“We expect things to get worse.” At least 8 people were killed in the tiny French-Dutch island of Saint Martin, with 23 others injured, and the toll was likely to rise as emergency services reached isolated communities, officials said.
“It is an enormous disaster. Ninety-five percent of the island is destroyed. I am in shock,” Daniel Gibbs, chairman of a local council on Saint Martin, told Radio Caribbean International.
Television footage from the island showed a damaged marina with boats tossed into piles, submerged streets and flooded homes. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday to coordinate an emergency humanitarian response.