Mass evacuations are underway today after Hurricane Irma slammed into the Caribbean with 185mph winds as aid agencies braced for a ‘major humanitarian response’.
America’s National Hurricane Center said Irma had strengthened into a dangerous Category 5 storm as it made its first landfall in islands of northeast Caribbean on a path that could take it to the United States – causing thousands to start panic buying and preparing to evacuate.
This morning, the eye of the ‘potentially catastrophic’ hurricane – estimated to be the size of France – lashed Barbuda just hours after officials warned people to seek protection from Irma’s ‘onslaught’ in a statement that closed with: ‘May God protect us all.’
Heavy rain and howling winds from the hurricane – measured as the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean – also raked Antigua, sending debris flying as people huddled in their homes or government shelters.
Officials said the French islands Saint-Barthelemy and Saint-Martin have also been ‘battered extremely violently’ with even sturdy government buildings destroyed.
U.S. President Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and authorities in the Bahamas said they would evacuate the residents of six islands at the southern end of the island chain. A mandatory evacuation is under way in the Florida Keys.
Experts say Irma is now so powerful it is registering on devices designed to detect earthquakes. Scientists picked up the background noise of winds causing trees to move and crashing ocean waves on their earthquake-detecting seismometers.
In addition to Irma, Tropical Storm Jose has now formed behind it in the open Atlantic and is expected to develop into a hurricane. A third tropical storm – Katia – has also formed in the Gulf of Mexico with winds but is expected to stay offshore until Friday morning.
The Red Cross this morning said it is preparing for ‘a major humanitarian response’.
‘The forecast as it stands right now is extremely worrying,’ said Walter Cotte, the agency’s Regional Director for the Americas. ‘We are anticipating major impacts on a number of islands, and we are preparing to respond to needs that may arise.
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Source: Daily Mail