As Florida and parts of the Southeast United States face Hurricane Irma, several islands in the Caribbean are coping with its devastating aftermath. Officials said the islands of Barbuda and Saint-Marten were 95 percent damaged or destroyed, and though Puerto Rico was spared a direct hit, about two-thirds of the population is without electricity, the New York Times reports.
So far 19 deaths have been attributed to the powerful storm, the size of which you can see below in this view from the International Space Station.
Irma, which hit several Caribbean islands as a Category 5 hurricane, is among the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic, according to the National Hurricane Center. Storm surges of 15 to 20 feet were expected in Turks and Caicos and in the Bahamas.
Destruction in the Caribbean
On Saint Martin in the Caribbean, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said 90 to 95 percent of the island was damaged or destroyed, and John McKendrick, the attorney general of Anguilla, said the island saw "huge devastation" from Irma.
Barbuda, another Caribbean island, was reduced to rubble, and now residents are being evacuated because Hurricane Jose, a Category 4 storm with 150 mile-per-hour winds, is expected to arrive soon.
“There are shipwrecks everywhere, destroyed houses everywhere, torn-off roofs everywhere,” Daniel Gibbs, a member of the French National Assembly on Saint Martin, told Radio Caraïbes International. (Saint Martin is owned half by the Dutch and half by France.)
Saint Martin is home to 74,000 people and popular with European tourists. Many of the islands that lay devastated in Irma's wake are known as beautiful, tranquil, vacation destinations.
Looting has been reported in Saint Martin in the aftermath of Irma. "France’s minister for overseas territories, Annick Girardin, described 'scenes of pillaging' on Saint Martin as people cleaned out stores and roamed the streets in search of food and water," the Washington Post reports.
In Haiti, the mayor of the city Fort Liberty, Louis Jacques Etienne, called Irma a “nuclear hurricane."
"Crops are destroyed, cattle is dead, and my cities are broken. It is bad. Very very bad,” he told the Post.
The eye of the hurricane did not pass over Puerto Rico, and the island was struck by only the outer edges of the storm. However, nearly 60 percent of people (about a million residents) are without electricity, and the head of the bankrupt government-owned electric company said it could take four months to restore service, the Times reports.
Irma is the first hurricane ever recorded that sustained winds of 185 miles per hour for longer than 24 hours. And as meteorologists point out, it helped make Sept. 7 the most active day for hurricanes on record in the Atlantic, along with two other storms, Jose and Katia.
Floridians prepare for Irma
Closer to home, Florida Gov. Rick Scott called Hurricane Irma "way bigger than Andrew," referring to the 1992 Category 5 hurricane that became the most destructive one ever to hit the state.
“I cannot stress this enough: Do not ignore evacuation orders,” Scott said during a news conference. “We can rebuild your home, but we cannot rebuild your life. Take what you need, but only what you need.”
“This storm is wider than our entire state and is expected to cause major and life-threatening impacts from coast to coast,” he said.
Scott asked gas stations to stay open as long as possible so residents could fuel up and evacuate, even though the gasoline supply is low, especially after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.
The chief executive officer of Florida Power and Light Co. said in a news conference that outages from the hurricane could affect 9 million people. “We are going to see a lot of debris that is going to be flying through the air,” he said.