Hurricane Irma slammed into islands in the northeast Caribbean with devastating force early Wednesday, damaging buildings and sending debris flying with winds estimated at 185mph. The National Weather Service says the eye of Irma, a Category 5 storm and the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, passed over the island of Barbuda at 1:47am, the AP reports. The storm ripped the roofs off of buildings, including the island's police station, and damage was also reported on the neighboring island of Antigua. Many residents on both islands have fled to shelters, fearing the storm will destroy their homes. The latest:
- Other Leeward Islands, including Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, and Nevis, are under hurricane warnings, as are Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic, reports Reuters. The National Hurricance Center has warned of "life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards" for places in Irma's path. The center predicts that Irma will hit the other Leeward Islands on Wednesday morning before passing over the Virgin Islands and close to northern Puerto Rico later in the day.
- French authorities have warned people on the islands of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy not to leave their houses under any circumstances, KCRA reports.
- Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis has ordered the mandatory evacuation of islands in the southern half of the chain, the Weather Channel reports. This is the largest evacuation in the country's history.
- Aid agencies predict that a massive response will be required, and that it won't be easy to deliver, the Guardian reports. "One of the main challenges is going to be logistical, given the isolation of some of the islands," says a Red Cross regional director.
- In Puerto Rico, where a decade-long recession has left much of the island's infrastructure in very poor shape, authorities warn that Irma could leave parts of the island without power for months, the New York Times reports.
- In Florida, authorities say a mandatory evacuation order for the Keys will be issued Wednesday evening. Miami-Dade County is also expected to issue a mandatory evacuation order—its first in 12 years—for Miami Beach and much of the mainland coast, reports the Miami Herald.
- Places hit hard by Irma may have very little time to recover before the next storm hits: Tropical Storm Jose, which formed in the Atlantic on Tuesday, is expected to strengthen into a hurricane and hit much the same area as Irma by the weekend, AccuWeather reports.
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