Hurricane Irma makes landfall in Caribbean islands
Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history, made landfall early Wednesday in the Caribbean islands.
At the far northeastern edge of the Caribbean, authorities on the Leeward Islands of Antigua and Barbuda cut power and urged residents to shelter indoors as they braced for Hurricane Irma's first contact with land early Wednesday.
Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma's "onslaught" in a statement that closed with: "May God protect us all."
The National Weather Service said the eye of Hurricane Irma passed over Barbuda around 1:47 a.m. Residents said over local radio that phone lines went down as the eye passed.
Weather officials said Irma was maintaining Category 5 strength with sustained winds and appears to be heading on a west-northwest path toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.
In Florida, people also stocked up on drinking water and other supplies.
Gov. Rick Scott activated 100 members of the Florida National Guard to be deployed across the state, and 7,000 National Guard members were to report for duty Friday when the storm could be approaching the area. On Monday, Scott declared a state of emergency in all of Florida's 67 counties.
Officials in the Florida Keys geared up to get tourists and residents out of Irma's path, and the mayor of Miami-Dade county said people should be prepared to evacuate Miami Beach and most of the county's coastal areas.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the voluntary evacuations could begin as soon as Wednesday evening. He activated the emergency operation center and urged residents to have three days' worth of food and water.
On the 108-square-mile-island Antigua, people who live in low-lying areas were staying with friends and relatives on higher ground or sleeping in churches, schools and community facilities built to withstand hurricanes. None of the shelters have yet been tested by Category 5 winds, however.
Many homes in Antigua and Barbuda are not built on concrete foundations or have poorly constructed wooden roofs that are susceptible to wind damage. Other islands in the path of the storm included the Virgin Islands and Anguilla, a small, low-lying territory of about 15,000 people.
President Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and authorities in the Bahamas said they would evacuate six southern islands.
Warm water is fuel for hurricanes and Irma is over water that is 1.8 degrees warmer than normal. The 79 degree water that hurricanes need goes about 250 feet deep, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private forecasting service Weather Underground.
Four other storms have had winds as strong in the overall Atlantic region but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which are usually home to warmer waters that fuel cyclones.
Hurricane Allen hit 190 mph in 1980, while 2005's Wilma, 1988's Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185 mph winds.
The northern Leeward Islands were expected to see waves as high as 11 feet, while the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas could see towering 20-foot waves later in the week, forecasters said.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said his government was evacuating the six islands in the south because authorities would not be able to help anyone caught in the "potentially catastrophic" wind, flooding and storm surge. People there would be flown to Nassau starting Wednesday in what he called the largest storm evacuation in the country's history.
"The price you may pay for not evacuating is your life or serious physical harm," Minnis said.
The National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma's magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida.
"The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we've ever seen," Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. "A lot of infrastructure won't be able to withstand this kind of force."
A new tropical storm also formed in the Atlantic on Tuesday, to the east of Irma. The hurricane center said Tropical Storm Jose was about 1,255 miles east of the Lesser Antilles late Tuesday and its maximum sustained winds had risen to 60 mph (85 kph). It was moving west at 13 mph and is expected to become a hurricane by Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Katia formed early Wednesday in the Gulf of Mexico off Mexico’s coast. The storm has maximum sustained winds near 40 mph and is expected to strengthen in the next few days, according to the hurricane center. However, the storm is expected to stay offshore through Friday morning.
The Associated Press contributed to this reportHurricane, Mega Storm, Leeward Islands, Irma , Caribbean Islands, Antigua, Barbuda