Utter devastation has been revealed as the extent of Hurricane Irma’s assault on St Martin, St Barthelemy and Barbuda becomes clearer.
At present nine people have been confirmed dead, including a two-year-old child in Barbuda.
This is down from the previous number reported – 10 – as states attempt to get clarity on a fast-moving situation.
The most powerful Atlantic storm for a decade has damaged 90% of the buildings and vehicles in Barbuda, and sources on the ground have told WIC News that they estimate between 50-60% of the 1,600 residents have been left homeless.
A state of emergency was declared in the twin-island nation overnight.
“The island is literally under water. In fact, I’m of the view that, as it stands now, Barbuda is barely habitable,” said Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
The situation in Barbuda is in stark contrast to the picture in sister island Antigua, which only suffered broken roofs and fallen trees.
And Browne, speaking after flying over the carnage, struck a remarkably different tone than the one he had earlier – before the full damage in Barbuda was revealed.
Communications with the smaller island was cut off overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday when Irma hit, leading to a delay in finding out the situation.
French-Dutch island ’destroyed’
Our freelance reporter in Antigua said that at least $100 million would need to be spent to rebuild Barbuda, quoting a government source.
St Martin, the next island in Irma’s path following Antigua-Barbuda, has been left in a horrendous state.
Daniel Gibbs, a local official, told the media that 95% of the island was destroyed.
“It’s an enormous catastrophe,” he said.
Princess Juliana International Airport, on the Dutch Sint Maarten portion of the island, has been flattened, according to local residents.
The airport is famous around the world as planes fly directly over the head of a popular beach.
“This is horrible, just horrible,” said a visibly upset resident of Cole Bay, Sint Maarten told WIC News.
“This weather isolates us from the whole world.”
Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte described the scenes on the Dutch side of St Martin: ”Houses are under water, cars are floating through the streets, inhabitants are sitting in the dark in ruined houses and are cut off from the outside world.”
Four of the nine deaths were on St Martin and St Barthelemy, a popular tourist destination known as St Barts.
Another person was killed in Anguilla, a British overseas territory.
Senior officials across the Caribbean region that the death toll is likely to rise.
No respite from storms
A storm surge is threatening the low-lying Turks and Caicos Islands, with waves predicted to be up to 20ft higher than usual.
It is preparing to be hit at around 2pm local time, with evacuations underway.
Hurricane Irma, the highest level hurricane possible (category five) is approximately 65 (105km) miles from Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, and 70 miles (115km) from Grand Turk Island.
It is travelling west-northwest at 16mph (26kmph).
Maximum sustained winds are currently 175mph (280kmph), according to Miami’s National Hurricane Center. This is slightly lower than the 180mph recorded four hours ago.
“On the forecast track, the eye of Irma should continue to move just north of the coast of Hispaniola today, be near the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas by this evening, and then be near the Central Bahamas by Friday,” the NHC said in a statement.
A mandatory evacuation is under way in the Florida Keys. The affected area is expected to expand at the storm gets nearer.
As many as 49 million people could be affected by Hurricane Irma, the United Nations has warned.
It is expected to reach the state of Florida by Sunday – but that it could be downgraded to a category four hurricane by then.
Today has already seen thousands of people in Puerto Rico left without electricity.
Three people on the island died as the capital, San Juan, was struck by waves of up to 30ft.
More misery could be on the way for the region, with Tropical Storm Jose reaching hurricane status in the last 24 hours.