Hurricane Irma Makes First Landfall

Wednesday, September 6th 2017, 3:24 am
By: News On 6

The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history made its first landfall, over the islands of the northeast Caribbean early Wednesday, churning along a path pointing to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.

The eye of Hurricane Irma passed over Barbuda around 1:47 a.m., the National Weather Service said. Residents said over local radio that phone lines went down. Heavy rain and howling winds raked the neighboring island of Antigua, sending debris flying as people huddled in their homes or government shelters.

Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma's "onslaught" in a statement that closed with, "May God protect us all."

The Category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 185 mph early Wednesday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Irma was some 5 miles north of Barbuda and 40 north of Antigua, moving west-northwest at 15 mph, the center said.

The center's forecast was for the winds to fluctuate slightly but for the storm to remain at Category 4 or 5 strength for the next day or two. The most dangerous winds, usually nearest to the eye, were forecast to pass near the northern Virgin Islands and near or just north of Puerto Rico through the day Wednesday.

The storm seemed almost certain to hit the United States by early next week.

"You'd be hard pressed to find any model that doesn't have some impact on Florida." said University of Miami senior hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.

In Florida, people also stocked up on drinking water and other supplies.

Gov. Rick Scott activated 100 members of the Florida National Guard to be deployed across the state, and 7,000 National Guard members were to report for duty Friday, when the storm could be approaching the area. On Monday, Scott declared a state of emergency in all of Florida's 67 counties.

Officials in the Florida Keys geared up to get tourists and residents out of Irma's path, and the mayor of Miami-Dade county said people should be prepared to evacuate Miami Beach and most of the county's coastal areas.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the voluntary evacuations could begin as soon as Wednesday evening. He activated the emergency operation center and urged residents to have three days' worth of food and water.

In Antigua, resident Carol Joseph said, "I hear it's a Cat 5 now and I'm terrified." As she finished her last trip to the supermarket before seeking shelter, she added, "I had to come back for more batteries because I don't know how long the current will be off."

On the 108-square-mile island, people who live in low-lying areas were staying with friends and relatives on higher ground or sleeping in churches, schools and community facilities built to withstand hurricanes. None of the shelters has yet been tested by Category 5 winds, however.

Many homes in Antigua and Barbuda aren't built on concrete foundations or have poorly constructed wooden roofs that are susceptible to wind damage. Other islands in the path of the storm included the Virgin Islands and Anguilla, a small, low-lying territory of about 15,000 people.

President Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and authorities in the Bahamas said they would evacuate six southern islands.

Warm water is fuel for hurricanes and Irma is over water that is 1.8 degrees warmer than normal. The 79 degree water hurricanes need goes about 250 feet deep, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private forecasting service Weather Underground.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.