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The “potentially catastrophic” Hurricane Irma has made landfall in the Caribbean as people in its path prepare for the storm to batter the region.
Irma is said to be the most powerful storm ever to form in the Atlantic Ocean, sparking fears it will wreak havoc on the islands before hitting the US.
The eye of Hurricane Irma has already passed over Barbuda, with residents reporting over local radio that phone lines went down as chaos ensued.
It made its first landfall in the islands of the northeast Caribbean early on Wednesday morning, churning along a path towards Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba.
In the United States, a mandatory evacuation has been ordered in Florida’s Key West area, with the storm potentially reaching the state by the weekend.
Pictures have emerged of huge queues at supermarkets in Miami as residents desperately empty the shelves for provisions in preparation for the storm’s impact.
Officials in Antigua warned residents to shelter from the “onslaught” of the storm, with reports of debris flying through streets as the storm hit.
The US National Hurricane Centre has said the storm roaring towards the northeast Caribbean has built up 185 mph winds, making it the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.
Antigua resident Carol Joseph said as she finished her last trip to the supermarket before seeking shelter: “I hear it’s a Catrgory Five now and I’m terrified.
“I had to come back for more batteries because I don’t know how long the current will be off.”
The northern Leeward Islands are expected to see waves as high as 11 feet, while the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas could see towering 20-foot waves later in the week, forecasters predicted.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said his government was evacuating six islands in the south because authorities would not be able to help anyone caught in the “potentially catastrophic” wind, flooding and storm surge.
President Trump approved a federal emergency declaration for Florida ahead of the storm, freeing up federal funds.
Governor Rick Scott has also 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 on Friday.
It comes just two weeks after Hurricane Harvey devastated areas of Texas, killing at least 60 people and causing billions of pounds in damage.
A state of emergency has also been declared in Puerto Rico, a key transfer flight hub for people travelling to and from Florida.
The southern US state is one of the most popular tourist destinations for Britons.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said: “The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we’ve ever seen.
“A lot of infrastructure won’t be able to withstand this kind of force.”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has told Britons to follow the advice of local authorities and any evacuation orders.
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