The Turks and Caicos Islands have been “pummelled” overnight by Hurricane Irma as winds of up to 175mph left death and destruction in the Atlantic. Their government declared a national shutdown as the category five storm continued to tear across the Caribbean, with life-threatening wind, rain and a storm surge expected into tomorrow.
Irma, which continues to be a “potentially catastrophic” hurricane, has killed at least 14 people according to reports, with islands across the region told to prepare for storm surges. The hurricane’s ruinous touch, which has already reduced the island of Barbuda to wreckage, will also be felt in nearby Haiti as the storm sweeps north west.
Meanwhile, the British Virgin Islands said they were confident of being able to rebuild after houses were reduced to foundations following the “devastating” storm. Images posted on social media showed entire structures razed to the ground, with debris scattered across the streets.
Sharon Flax-Brutus, director of tourism for the group of more than 60 islands, said: “The destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands has been devastating. “The destination has lost entire structures and many homes are without roofs, or have been diminished to merely foundations.”
She added communication between the islands has been difficult as mobile phone towers had come down – meaning it was tricky to gauge the full extent of the damage. Irma was first classified as a tropical storm on August 30 and rapidly intensified over the following days, becoming a category four hurricane on September 4.
Then, winds reached a peak of 130mph, but soon became the strongest for more than a decade when sustained winds peaked at 185mph. Saint Martin, which has already been victim to Irma, is now facing a new threat in the form of Jose, while the British territories of Anguilla and Montserrat are on alert for a tropical storm.
Thousands of British tourists believed to be holidaying in the Caribbean have been warned to follow evacuation orders while some have been advised to stay in their hotel rooms. States of emergency have been declared in Puerto Rico, Cuba and Florida, where the storm is due to make landfall this weekend.
In Fort Lauderdale, 40-year-old Erik Petersen described the atmosphere as “pretty tense” – adding there was much more worry than last year, when the Sunshine State braced for Hurricane Matthew. The dual American-British citizen told the Press Association: “People aren’t just talking about this as a hurricane, they’re taking about it as the hurricane.
“I’ve had a few people ask if I’m considering going somewhere else in Florida, but this thing’s the size of Texas. Roads are clogged, hotels are full, gas is running low. “I’d rather face this thing in a house in Fort Lauderdale than in a car in a traffic jam somewhere outside Orlando.”
Mr Petersen, who lived in the UK for 11 years and most recently called Nottingham his home city, is riding out the storm with his 36-year-old wife Jo and their six-year-old daughter Anya. He said he was expecting lots of damage and said power could be out for weeks.
“With no electricity or air conditioning, you get used to stinking. Some people have generators. Unfortunately, we don’t,” he said. “Luckily we do have a gas oven, so we can cook without electricity.
“Anya largely sees this as a big camp-out or adventure, which I suppose is good.
“Jo hasn’t been through a hurricane before, but she’s been through hurricane prep, so she’s in full-on Spirit of Dunkirk/Getting Stuff Done mode.
“My parents have lived here for many years and seen a lot of stuff. They’re not panicking, but they’re taking this all very seriously.”