Hurricane Irma makes landfall in Caribbean packing 185 mph winds 2:45
Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma’s “onslaught” in a statement that closed with: “May God protect us all.”
Many homes on Barbuda and the neighboring island of Antigua are not built on concrete foundations or have poorly constructed wooden roofs that are susceptible to wind damage.
The National Weather Service predicted life-threatening hazards and severe damage beginning Wednesday in the U.S. Virgin Islands before the storm passed “near or just north of Puerto Rico this afternoon or tonight.”
“You could potentially see some real devastation and destruction to the homes there,” said Heather Tesch, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel. “Add to that the storm surge and potential flooding, along with some very heavy rains [and] the wind damage — it is going to be a real mess in some of these areas.”
Then would come the Dominican Republic, Haiti and, most likely, Florida, where “folks need to be preparing immediately,” Tesch said.
Quentin Liou, a manager at car rental company Hertz on the island of St. Barts, told NBC News that he was watching walls “tremble” as Irma approached.
“The sound is terrifying,” he added. “I think when the sunlight will be here we will see a disaster.”
Four other storms have had winds as strong in the overall Atlantic region but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which are usually home to warmer waters that fuel cyclones. Hurricane Allen hit 190 mph in 1980, while 2005’s Wilma, 1988’s Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Keys storm all had 185 mph winds.