French official reports 2 dead as Irma lashes Caribbean
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico —
Hurricane Irma, a record-breaking storm barreling its way through the Caribbean, is forcing evacuations as Florida preps for the worst.
Follow along for updates (all times EDT).
Hurricane Irma — one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic — is battering the northern Virgin Islands and hurtling toward Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon after smashing a string of small northern Caribbean islands, where at least two people were killed.
Irma’s core slammed Barbuda early Wednesday before moving over St. Martin and Anguilla and parts of the British Virgin Islands. Its maximum sustained winds of 185 mph were well above the 157 mph threshold of a Category 5 storm.
Irma’s powerful center could pass just north of Puerto Rico — a U.S. territory of about 3.4 million people — on Wednesday afternoon and night, threatening heavy rain and dangerous coastal storm surges, forecasters said.
CNN’s Leyla Santiago, in the capital of San Juan, said there were already power outages as strong winds lashed the island and the center of the storm moved just off the northeast coast.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jose has become a hurricane.
3:30 p.m. French official reports 2 dead
France’s overseas minister is reporting at least two people are dead and two seriously injured after Irma crossed French-administered Saint Martin and St. Barthelemy.
In a translated report from French broadcaster BFMTV, Annick Girardin said communications are just beginning to return and lessening winds will make air reconnaissance easier.
French President Emmanuel Macron says he expects that more victims and heavy damage will be discovered when Hurricane Irma has left the French West Indies.
Speaking at a crisis center set up at the Interior Ministry, Macron told reporters Wednesday night that while if it’s too early to give a precise toll and figures, he can already say “the toll will be harsh and cruel.”
Early reports suggested damage on parts of the smaller islands of the Caribbean — a tropical region popular with tourists.
Barbuda, home to about 1,600 people, was “so badly damaged that there is no communication” from the island, said Keithley Meade, director of a meteorological office in Antigua and Barbuda.
“We have a lot of broken trees across the island,” Meade said from Antigua, whose 80,000 people comprise most of the two-island nation’s population.
Irma destroyed four of the most solid government buildings on the French-administered portion of nearby St. Martin, an island of about 75,000 people, French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said Wednesday in Paris.
It’s likely that all other older buildings there have at least been damaged, he said.
Roughly 10 of these smaller islands — such as St. Martin, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis — were pounded by hurricane conditions. One, Guadeloupe, has about 405,000 residents. The rest have about 264,400 people combined.