Category 5 Hurricane Irma, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic north of the Caribbean and east of Florida, blasted its way through some of the first targets on its route on Wednesday—and the initial outlook is not pretty.
Irma has continued to terrify with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour), with gusts reaching up to 225 mph (362 km/h). The storm is still heading northwest along some of the most heavily populated islands it will pass before potentially hitting Florida; behind it, authorities are still assessing damage, rescuing casualties and counting the dead.
Here’s what we know about Irma’s wake so far.
According to the New York Times, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne initially said the islands had braved the storm with significantly less damage than expected, and “I dare to say that no other country in the Caribbean would have been as well prepared as we were.”
But Browne, who was on Antigua, did not receive accurate reports from the other island, which turns out to have been devastated. Later in the day, the prime ministe told reporters he estimates upwards of 90 percent of Barbuda, with a population of roughly 1,600, was in ruins and 60 percent of the population was now homeless.
“The entire housing stock was damaged,” Browne said. “It is just a total devastation. Barbuda is literally a rubble.”
Photos of Barbuda show the island essentially wiped of most standing structures and strewn with masses of debris.
Per the Times, the damage to Antigua could have been far worse.
Anguilla, an overseas British territory, the French and Dutch-administered St Martin, and French-administered St Barthélemy are a short stretch northwest of Antigua and Barbuda and were next in line to be slammed.
South Florida Caribbean News reported Anguilla had taken a direct hit from Irma but survived largely intact. Local resorts, airports and seaports saw minimal damage, “although many private residences sustained some damage.”
Photos posted by 19-year-old Radio Anguilla reporter Nisha Dupuis, who broadcast live through the storm, suggest the damage certainly could have been worse.
According to the BBC, French President Emanuel Macron has warned damage to St Martin and St Barthélemy is major, with deaths expected, and that the path to recovery would be “hard and cruel.” Damage in the Dutch section of St. Martin to the south is also widespread; French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said Irma had destroyed some of the sturdiest structures on the island.
The airport on the Dutch side had been ripped to shreds in places, while the rest of the Dutch half of the island suffered ravaged towns, power outages and a communications blackout.
St. Kitts and Nevis, a small two-island nation to the south, appears to have weathered Irma fairly well.
The full extent of damage is unclear, but according to the New York Times, taxi driver Javorn Micheal Fahie of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands said he saw numerous roofs ripped off houses in his neighborhood.
“Oh boy,” he told the Times. “A lot of wind and rain ... all the trees around us have no leaves. Everything is empty.”
Kelsey Nowakowski, who lives in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, told the paper the storm felt “seismic” and “catastrophic.” Video posted by WeatherNation showed major storm surges, toppled trees and flooded neighborhoods.
Another Twitter user posted photos of what appeared to be a Department of Labor building in the area, which was surrounded by ravaged and flooded streets.
Next in Irma’s path was Puerto Rico; according to NBC meteorologist Bill Karins, the hurricane passed slightly north of the island, and was projected to spare its densely populated capital of San Juan the worst of the storm.
The storm is still lashing Puerto Rico, though it will take some time for the full extent of the damage to become clear. AP reporter Dánica Coto warned some 650,000 people had lost power, with another 47,000 without water.
According to CNN, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said, “From the center of operations that we have over here in San Juan, there is pretty significant damage already done.”
After Puerto Rico, Irma is scheduled to continue heading west, putting it on a trajectory to slam the northern Dominican Republic and Haiti, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Cuba, the Bahamas and finally Florida this weekend.
The Washington Post warned “the latest computer models show [Irma] aimed at South Florida as if following directions by GPS,” and it seems increasingly likely to hit the state’s tip before turning north and raking the east coast along the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach corridor.
“That’s extremely bad,” University of Miami senior research associate and Post contributor Brian McNoldy told the paper. “That’s basically every East Coast Florida city. This could easily be the most expensive U.S. storm if this happens.”
Per CNN, authorities in Florida are sending mixed messages about whether residents should evacuate before the storm hits later this week. Two nuclear plants in the region, Turkey Point and St. Lucie, are possibly in the direct path of the hurricane, but utility Florida Power & Light insisted to the Miami Herald the facilities were designed to withstand extreme conditions.
This is a breaking news story and may be updated as more information becomes available.