SAN JUAN (Puerto Rico) • Monster Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean yesterday, packing a potentially catastrophic mix of pounding winds, raging surf and rain en route to a possible Florida landfall at the weekend.
Irma is expected to become the second powerful storm to thrash the United States mainland in as many weeks, but its precise trajectory is uncertain. Hurricane Harvey killed more than 60 people and caused as much as US$180 billion (S$243 billion) in damage after hitting Texas late last month.
The eye of Irma, a Category 5 storm with winds of 295kmh, yesterday passed over the island of St Martin, east of the US territory of Puerto Rico, the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) in Miami said. Category 5 is its highest category.
In Puerto Rico's capital San Juan, a handful of people stood on the wind-whipped shore of a beach- front park yesterday to take a last look at the ocean before seeking shelter. Ms Angelica Flecha, 45, said: "I am worried. This is going to be a huge storm, bigger than I have ever seen."
She has stocked her second-floor home with food and water and put metal storm shutters on the windows, but is worried about a storm surge on the island, which is under a hurricane warning.
Most businesses were closed and streets almost empty. Cars packed carparks of stores that were still open, with shoppers stuffing ice and water into their trunks.
The balcony snapped and is now hanging on by one little piece of wire.
TOURIST LOREN ANN MAYO, of her hotel room in the French territory of Guadeloupe.
Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello urged the island's 3.4 million residents to seek refuge in one of 460 hurricane shelters.
It was not immediately clear how much damage Irma had done as it swept west. Two American tourists in the French territory of Guadeloupe, Ms Loren Ann Mayo and Ms Rachel Scharett, told CNN they were weathering the storm in their hotel room's bathroom.
Following a loud cracking noise, Ms Mayo said: "The balcony snapped and is now hanging on by one little piece of wire."
Emergency officials on Antigua and Barbuda reported three injuries but minimal damage, with some roofs blown off. Communication between the islands were cut off, officials said.
Several other Leeward Islands, including Anguilla, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, as well as the US and British Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic were under a hurricane warning.
In Paris, the French government said it had delivered water and food to two of its overseas territories, St Martin and St Barthelemy, and that emergency response teams would be sent once the storm had passed.
US President Donald Trump said on Twitter yesterday that he was monitoring the storm closely.
He approved emergency declarations for Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, mobilising federal disaster relief efforts, the White House said.
The Caribbean and southern US brace for Hurricane Irma.http://str.sg/4V3H