2 dead as Hurricane Irma slams Caribbean, hurtles toward Florida

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Reports of fatalities and widespread damage in northern Caribbean islands began to emerge Wednesday night after Hurricane Irma blasted through, packing devastating winds and rain.

"Barbuda is literally rubble," Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda told an interviewer with ABS TV/Radio Antigua.

"The entire housing stock was damaged," Browne said after visiting the island. "It is just a total devastation."

About 1,800 people live on Barbuda, Browne said, adding that there currently is no water or phone service for residents. He said one fatality, an infant, had been confirmed.

Charles Fernandez, minister of foreign affairs and international trade for Antigua and Barbuda, told ABS that destruction on Barbuda was "upwards of 90%."

At least two people died and two others were seriously injured on St. Barts and St. Martin, said French Overseas Affairs Minister Annick Girardin. The islands are French overseas collectivities.

Irma destroyed government buildings, tore roofs from houses and left northern Caribbean islands without power or communications.

Antigua, Barbuda, St. Martin/St. Maarten and St. Barts felt the fury of the Category 5 storm, one of the strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic, according to updates from the region.

French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said some of the strongest buildings on the island of 75,000 people had been destroyed, boding ill for weaker structures on St. Martin.

"In terms of material damage, the four strongest buildings on the island of St. Martin have been destroyed," which meant that weaker structures likely had been damaged or destroyed, he told reporters.

The firehouse in St. Barts is under a meter of water and is out of service, according to an update posted to Twitter by the government of the neighboring French territory, Guadeloupe.

"Firefighters have taken shelter in an upstairs room. A number of houses have suffered damage, roofs have been ripped out. Total loss of electricity," it said.

The mayor's office in St. Martin has been damaged, the update from Guadeloupe said, and the mayor and 23 others took shelter in a concrete-walled room.

The island has been without electricity since 6 a.m. local time, it said.

Virginia Barreras told CNN she was riding out the storm in a hotel in St. Martin.

"The palm trees are bent over and (I) can't see anything but white," she said before Irma's core passed over the island. "The walls shake when the wind blows hard, and we can hear debris being thrown around."

Footage posted to YouTube by PTZtv.com from Maho Beach, St. Maarten, showed winds so powerful they reportedly took out the webcam filming the scene.

Fallen trees, flash flooding
Irma's core, with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph -- well above the 157 mph threshold of a Category 5 -- slammed Barbuda before hitting St. Martin and Anguilla.

Keithley Meade, director of the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Services, said, "Barbuda was heavily damaged by Irma. So badly damaged that there is no communication, so we don't know how much."

After slamming St. Martin, Anguilla and St. Kitts and Nevis, the storm was expected to move near the British Virgin Islands and northern US Virgin Islands.

The storm's center was then expected to pass near or just north of Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon and evening.

Forecasters warn that Irma's likely path will be near the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday and the southeastern Bahamas on Friday -- and that the destruction could be devastating.

In the Bahamas, emergency evacuations have been ordered for six southern islands -- Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay and Ragged Island.

Puerto Rico: Long lines

Storm surge is a concern for the Virgin Islands (up to 11 feet) and Puerto Rico (up to 5 feet), as is heavy rain (up to 10 inches in the Virgin Islands, and up to 15 in parts of Puerto Rico).

Rosselló, Puerto Rico's governor, declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard.

Puerto Ricans bracing for the high-octane winds and slashing rainfall started to feel Irma's effects Wednesday afternoon. Strong breezes shook rickety, rooftops and downpours battered the coast.

CNN journalists driving in San Juan didn't see any other cars, other than a few police vehicles. The trees swayed violently.

Residents prepped their homes for safety and gathered food supplies and belongings.

Lines snaked around stores as people purchased water, food, plywood, batteries and power generators.

Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas

Forecasters warn that Irma's likely path will be near the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday and the southeastern Bahamas on Friday -- and that the destruction could be devastating.

In the Bahamas, emergency evacuations have been ordered for six southern islands -- Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay and Ragged Island.

"This is the largest such evacuation in the history of the country," Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said.

Bahamian officials also canceled vacation time for police and defense forces.

"Some of the (Bahamian) islands aren't more than 9 feet (above sea level). Storm surges there may be 20 feet. You get the idea what's going to happen to those islands," CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

Florida: Evacuations and a rush for supplies

Many Floridians spent Wednesday stocking up on food or making plans to head inland -- and in some cases were leaving gas stations out of fuel and stores without needed supplies.

Katherine Pina said four stores she visited in Fort Lauderdale were out of bottled water. She said she saw one man reselling jugs of water for $5.

"People are doing an opportunity to get some money, I guess," she said.

Workers at five gas stations in Miami Beach told CNN by phone Wednesday that all were out of fuel. One said the station expected to receive more Wednesday night; another said a resupply was coming Thursday morning.

Some South Florida communities ordered evacuations. Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, ordered visitors to head home Wednesday, with residents told to leave later in the evening.

In Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale and other cities north of Miami, a mandatory evacuation will go into effect at noon Thursday for areas east of Federal Highway, Mayor Barbara Sharief said. The evacuation zone includes low-lying areas.

Miami-Dade County has not issued an evacuation order yet, Mayor Carlos Giménez said, because officials believe they have time to watch where the storm will go. But schools and county offices will be closed Thursday and Friday.

After declaring a state of emergency across Florida, the governor said President Donald Trump had "offered the full resources of the federal government."

Scott also ordered 7,000 National Guard troops to report for duty by Friday morning.

"Learn your evacuation zone. Listen to your locals," he said. "This storm has the potential to devastate this state. You have to take this seriously."

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jose, in the open Atlantic far to the southeast of Irma, is expected to become a hurricane by Wednesday night.

"Interests in the Leeward Islands should monitor the progress of Jose," the National Hurricane Center said.

Are you affected by Irma? Text, iMessage or WhatsApp your videos, photos and stories to CNN: +1 347-322-0415.

¿Te ha afectado Irma? Envía tus fotos, vídeos e historias a CNN por texto, iMessage y WhatsApp: +1 347-322-0415.

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