Hurricane Irma barreled toward vulnerable Haiti on Thursday after devastating a string of Caribbean islands and killing at least 10 people as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century took aim at Florida.
With winds of around 185 miles per hour (290 km per hour), the storm has smashed through several small islands in the northeast Caribbean in recent days, including Barbuda, Saint Martin and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, ripping down trees and flattening homes and hospitals.
Winds dipped slightly on Thursday to 175 mph as the storm lashed the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Irma is expected to hit Florida as a very powerful Category 4 storm on Sunday, with storm surges and flooding beginning within the next 48 hours.
“The amount of wind that’s coming in, we don’t think we’ve seen anything quite like this,” U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday after declaring a major disaster in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“To the people of Florida, we just want you to protect yourselves, be very very vigilant and careful,” said the president, who owns the waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
Florida emergency management officials began evacuations, ordering tourists to leave the Keys. Gas shortages in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area worsened on Thursday, with sales up to five times the norm.
A mandatory evacuation on Georgia’s Atlantic coast was due to begin on Saturday, Governor Nathan Deal said.
Across the Caribbean authorities rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of residents and tourists in the path of the storm, while on islands in its wake, shocked locals tried to comprehend the extent of the devastation.
In the U.S. Virgin islands, a major hospital was obliterated by the wind and Barbuda, where one person died, was reduced “to rubble”, according to Prime Minister Gaston Browne. In the British overseas territory of Anguilla another person was killed, while the hospital and airport, power and phone service were damaged, emergency service officials said.