Hurricane Irma hammered a string of northeast Caribbean islands, thrashing them with rain and winds of up to 180 mph, and leaving at least nine people dead.
The hurricane battered several islands, including Barbuda, St. Martin and the British Virgin Islands, causing widespread devastation. Barbuda is barely inhabitable with nearly all its buildings damaged, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda said.
Puerto Rico was spared a direct hit, but it still got lashed by strong winds and torrential rains, leading to hundreds of thousands without power, officials said.
The eye of one of the strongest storms recorded in the Atlantic is making its way toward a possibly devastating hit on Florida over the weekend. On Thursday morning, Irma was moving off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and was about 95 miles north of Punta Cana.
The center of the storm will pass north of the coast of Hispaniola later Thursday, and near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas by evening, the National Hurricane Center said.
Here are the latest developments:
— Hurricane Irma has killed at least nine people, officials said. Six died on the French side of the island of St. Martin and two others on St. Barthélemy, according to French officials. An infant in Barbuda also died in the storm, officials said.
— Barbuda, one of two major islands in the nation of Antigua and Barbuda, took a major hit, with about 95% of its buildings damaged, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.
— Browne described the damage as “unprecedented” and “absolutely devastating,” estimating it will cost $100 million to rebuild.
— Irma’s eye passed directly over Barbuda on Wednesday, leaving the small island’s 1,800 residents largely incommunicado after it knocked over the telecommunications system and cell towers.
— Irma is one of three active hurricanes in the Atlantic basin — the last time this happened was in 2010. Jose, in the open Atlantic far to the southeast of Irma, has become a hurricane, as has Katia in the Gulf of Mexico.