Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm and the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, is ravaging the Caribbean as it continues along what appears to be a collision course with the southeastern United States. Irma has left at least 10 people dead as of Thursday morning, though that number is expected to rise as recovery teams continue their work.
Irma was particularly devastating for the Caribbean island of Barbuda, a typically idyllic vacation destination known for its pink-sand beaches and plentiful bird life. The storm destroyed or heavily damaged nearly every building on the island, the Associated Press reports, leaving more than half of the 1,400 residents homeless. “It is just really a horrendous situation,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the AP.
The monstrous storm, easily visible by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, also ripped through Puerto Rico Wednesday, leaving just shy of 900,000 residents without power and tens of thousands without water. The storm also reportedly did serious damage to Princess Juliana International Airport, an airfield on St. Martin famous for landing airliners’ low approaches over a nearby beach.
Residents in Florida and neighboring states are now bracing for what will almost certainly be an unavoidable and calamitous impact. Hurricane Irma remains a Category 5 storm as of Thursday morning, with maximum sustained winds of nearly 180 miles per hour. The storm is moving west-northwest at about 17 miles per hour, with Irma’s center currently just north of the Dominican Republic. It’s expected to be just off Florida’s southernmost tip by late Saturday or early Sunday.