Hurricane Irma continued to batter parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Thursday, prompting fears of widespread flooding despite the islands only being hit by the storm’s outer bands. Those on the smaller Caribbean islands to the west weren’t so lucky, after the storm wrought untold havoc to Puerto Rico, Antigua, and Barbuda, the US and British Virgin Islands and various other islands earlier on Wednesday. As of now, the death toll from the storm stands at 10 people—with six deaths being reported on St. Maarten, two deaths on St. Barts and one death each on Anguilla and Barbuda—and this toll is expected to climb as rescuers gain access to areas cut off by the storm’s extensive damage.
The death toll might not be as high as could be expected considering that Irma has now been classified as the strongest Atlantic storm in recorded history, breaking the record for the longest time with sustained winds above 185 miles-per-hour. Nonetheless, the extent of the damage is still devastating and it could be years before many of the islands hardest hit by the storm can begin to fully recover. The island nation of Antigua and Barbuda seems to have suffered the worst damage. According to the country’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, more than 90% of the buildings on Barbuda were damaged or destroyed, leaving the island mostly uninhabitable.
Although other islands didn’t suffer quite the same level of damage as Barbuda, the destruction across much of the Caribbean is still unprecedented. In Puerto Rico, more than 1 million people have been left without power, and some experts are already estimating it could take weeks or even months to fully restore power to the island. Still, it seems that Irma is not yet done wreaking havoc, and the storm has now begun to take a turn more to the north where it is expected to strike a direct hit to the Turks and Caicos Islands sometime on Thursday night before hitting the Bahamas on Friday. Both the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos have fairly low elevations, which puts the islands at huge risk for damage from storm surges that are expected to reach up to 20 feet in height—more than twice the elevation of many parts of the islands.
After passing the Bahamas, the storm is predicted to then slam directly into the southern coast of Florida, potentially passing directly over Miami. As a result of the threat, Governor Rick Scott has already placed all of Florida under a state of emergency and has warned citizens to be ready to evacuate. In fact, Scott stated that people should be preparing and making plans to evacuate no matter which part of the state they live in, as there is no way yet to know the exact path that the storm will take. For this reason, it is impossible to predict the total extent of the damage, but there is no doubt that Irma will go down as one of the most destructive storms ever to hit the Caribbean no matter how much damage it causes to the US mainland.