Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic, hit the eastern Caribbean on Wednesday with winds of as much as 185 miles an hour, but had slowed to 180 by this morning. Floridians became increasingly nervous as the chance of a direct impact continues to rise.
Irma hit the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean on Wednesday, and information has been slow to emerge since.
The small island of Barbuda went completely dark for hours after Irma slammed into it until the Antigua News Room tweeted that the island had suffered nearly complete destruction. Prime Minister Gaston Browne said a full evacuation of the island might be necessary.
It has since begun lashing Puerto Rico and is also threatening havoc and destruction in the Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, according to The New York Times.
Here is a video from The Guardian of the hurricane striking St. Martin:
The eye of Irma was moving west-northwest off the northern coast of Hispaniola and was heading for the Turk and Caicos Islands, where storm surges were predicted to be as large as 20 feet, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“On the forecast track, the eye of Irma should continue to move just north of the coast of Hispaniola today, be near the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas by this evening, and then be near the central Bahamas by Friday,” the hurricane center said in its 8 a.m. forecast this morning.
“Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days,” the center said.
Here is a New York Times video:
Irma's path is now projected to pivot north as it nears Florida.
The timing of that turn is crucial to millions of people in the state, some of whom are already under mandatory evacuation orders, according to WBUR. Those orders took effect in Key West on Wednesday; they now also cover barrier islands, including Miami Beach.
To add insult to injury, Hurricane José has formed right behind Irma in the mid-Atlantic. Although its course and development can’t be predicted this early, it is also tracking in the Atlantic heading west-northwest toward the Caribbean, according to Trade Only sister publication PassageMaker.
Miami Beach officials are worried about more than 20 tall construction cranes, especially ones that tower over residential areas. They are designed to withstand winds of 145 mph, but Irma’s speeds now are much higher.
The Coast Guard is also warning mariners in southern Florida to prepare their vessels and crews as Hurricane Irma approaches. Anyone who is in the storm's potential path and is looking for information about preparing a boat for a hurricane can check out the Coast Guard’s resource on vessel preparedness.
All over Florida, people were voluntarily evacuating, securing properties and clamoring for water and food. Long lines at gas stations were reported as early as Monday.
Miramar, Fla., resident Terry Boram told Trade Only Today that she had never seen a spectacle like the one at her local grocery store on Tuesday.
“I finally got my water this morning — they were just bringing in one pallet at a time from the back, and was a free for all,” Boram said. “As soon as the pallet dropped, people were just diving on the pallet. I’ve never seen such a thing.”
She also said gas station lines were “crazy.”
Juli Kern, of Fort Myers, Fla., said the storm’s shift east meant she and her husband, two kids and dogs would not evacuate. “If it comes back up the middle of the state, then we will evacuate to Tallahassee.”
Freedom Boat Club president John Giglio was riding out the storm, but said he had neighbors leave the state on Monday.
“Harvey opened the eyes [of people],” Giglio told Trade Only Today. “It’s unfortunate that you get these catastrophic events like Hurricane Charlie in 2004, and Katrina in 2005, but people forget about that over time. Harvey is fresh in everybody’s mind. People here reacted much more so than if Harvey hadn’t hit the Houston area last week. My children’s schools are half full.”