• Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic, hit the eastern Caribbean on Wednesday with winds of up to 185 miles an hour.
• With two confirmed deaths in the French Caribbean, President Emmanuel Macron of France says there will be “victims to lament.”
• President Trump declared a state of emergency in Florida, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. The storm is expected to reach Florida on Sunday, potentially causing catastrophic flooding.
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‘Considerable’ damage in the French Caribbean.
Two people were confirmed dead after the storm barreled through the French Caribbean on Wednesday.
President Emmanuel Macron of France said on Wednesday evening that it was too early to say how badly the islands of St. Martin and St. Barthélemy had been damaged or how many casualties there were. But he said the aftermath would be “harsh and cruel.”
“We will have victims to lament, and the material damage on the two islands is considerable,” he said after a crisis meeting in Paris, adding that the “entire nation” stood beside the inhabitants of the islands.
Mr. Macron said that emergency services were focusing on re-establishing contact with the islands and that rescue operations would be coordinated from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, where the French minister for overseas territories, Annick Girardin, was headed on Wednesday evening.
The government will hold another crisis meeting on Thursday afternoon and will provide further details then, Mr. Macron said.
Earlier on Wednesday, France’s national weather forecaster said that “never has a hurricane with such strong winds threatened the Lesser Antilles.”
Still, as the storm moved further west, the French authorities downgraded the hurricane alert for St. Martin and St. Barthélemy, indicating that taking shelter was no longer mandatory but warning that moving around the islands was still ill-advised.
In the Virgin Islands, ‘It feels seismic.’
Kelsey Nowakowski, who lives in St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands, described how she and four friends had hunkered down and waited for the storm to pass.
“We’ve all been in hurricanes before, but have never felt anything like this before,” Ms. Nowakowski said in a message via Twitter. “It feels seismic, it feels catastrophic.”
As the heart of the storm passed over the British Virgin Islands on Wednesday afternoon, its wind speed persisted at 185 m.p.h., the United States National Hurricane Center reported. At 2 p.m., the hurricane’s eye was seven miles northwest of Road Town, the capital of the territory, and 20 miles northeast of St. Thomas.
“We boarded ourselves in and are just trying to bail water from the floor now,” Ms. Nowakowski said. “Based on the water we took in, we think there is significant damage to the roof but don’t think it blew off yet. It sounds terrifying out there.”
— RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA and MEGAN SPECIA
In Puerto Rico, fears of rising waters.
The Puerto Rican authorities warned residents to watch for rising waters and take shelter ahead of the storm.
Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló said at a televised briefing on Wednesday that six to eight inches of rain were expected, with some areas receiving up to 12 inches. “This is a cause of concern for flooding in Puerto Rico,” he said.
With the storm expected to pass just north of San Juan between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., the governor had cautioned people to take shelter by noon in homes or in one of 156 government-run facilities. He warned that the authorities would suspend rescues once winds reached 50 m.p.h.
The governor asked the Defense Department to activate the Army National Guard for recovery efforts once the storm passes. “As the history with Harvey states,” he said, referring to the hurricane that battered Houston, “flooding can become the major cause of death in events of this nature.”
Officials warned that the island’s fragile electrical grid could be shut down for months in some areas. The Puerto Rico electric company said that nearly 300,000 people had lost power by early Wednesday afternoon. More than 4,000 had lost water service, mostly because of power outages.
The hurricane could hardly have come at a worse time for the territory, which is the throes of an economic crisis and does not have money for rebuilding.
— FRANCES ROBLES
St. Martin’s ‘most durable’ buildings destroyed.
The French interior minister, Gérard Collomb, said on Wednesday afternoon that the four “most durable” buildings on St. Martin had been destroyed.
President Trump owns a property in St. Martin, Le Château des Palmiers, a walled waterfront estate that is currently up for sale. It is unclear whether that property was damaged.
Power was out on St. Barthélemy and the roofs of many buildings had been blown off, according to a statement from the prefecture on the French island of Guadeloupe, about 40 miles from Antigua and Barbuda.
The situation on St. Martin was similar: There was no power, the fire station was flooded, and local police station no longer had a roof. The island’s administrative offices were also “partially destroyed,” the statement from Guadeloupe said, adding that the staff had taken shelter in a concrete room.
By midmorning on Wednesday, the hurricane was “pounding” the island nation of Anguilla, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Alex Woolfall, a British public relations consultant, was staying at The Westin St. Marteen resort in St. Martin when the storm made landfall early Wednesday. Before the storm arrived, the hotel had warned guests to take precautions. Mr. Woolfall tweeted updates during the storm before the power eventually went out.
— AURELIEN BREEDEN and KIRK SEMPLE
One of the strongest Atlantic storms ever recorded.
Hurricane Irma was declared one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic. There have been storms with comparable winds in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, where warm waters can fuel especially dangerous hurricanes.
The National Hurricane Center, describing the storm as “potentially catastrophic,” said it expected the hurricane to bring “life-threatening wind, storm surge and rainfall hazards to portions of the northern Leeward Islands, including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico” on Wednesday.
‘This is very serious.’
Tourists in Puerto Rico received emergency instructions from hotel operators, who encouraged them to shelter in hotel ballrooms.
“We have never since 1928 experienced anything like this,” Jose Suarez, the manager of La Concha Hotel in Condado, told guests there on Wednesday morning. “This is very serious.”
Alex and Ally Tyre, a Jacksonville couple stranded in Puerto Rico on their honeymoon, prepared by moving the furniture in their hotel room.
The Tyres married on Sunday and were on their way to the British Virgin Islands when their flight was canceled, stranding them at their connection point, San Juan. “We would feel safer if we were on the south side of the island,” Ms. Tyre said.
— FRANCES ROBLES
Florida is taking no chances.
In Miami-Dade County, Florida’s most populous, memories of the damage caused in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm, spurred residents to prepare for Hurricane Irma earlier than usual.
Most projections have Irma slamming into the state by Sunday, although it is unclear where it might make landfall.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump tweeted: “Watching hurricane closely. My team, which has done, and is doing, such a good job in Texas, is already in Florida. No rest for the weary!”
Gov. Rick Scott activated the state National Guard and declared a state of emergency across Florida. At a Wednesday news conference, he urged residents to heed evacuation advisories and to take action while the storm is still days away. Irma, he said, is more powerful and dangerous than Hurricane Andrew.
“Know your evacuation zone,” he said. “Listen to your locals. This storm has the potential to devastate the state. Take it seriously.”
The governor said that 1,000 National Guard troops would be on duty by Wednesday night, and ordered most state government offices closed on Friday. He urged people to stock up on basics and refill their prescriptions, and said the state was working to address shortages of fuel and bottled water.
Evacuation orders for Miami-Dade County were expected Wednesday or early Thursday, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said, as a precaution for what is expected to be unprecedented coastal flooding. The county expected to open shelters on Wednesday, and ordered schools closed on Thursday.
The Florida Keys were under a mandatory evacuation order: Wednesday morning for visitors and Wednesday evening for residents. The islands’ three hospitals began evacuating patients on Tuesday.
Hurricane Harvey in Texas was weighing heavily on people’s minds. “I think because of Texas, people are freaking out,” said Yoseyn Ramos, 24, a Miami resident who said she was worried because she could not find gas anywhere.
—RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA and MARC SANTORA
Barbuda and Antigua are spared the worst of storm.
Antigua and Barbuda, which had expected to be hit by the full force of the storm, were rattled early Wednesday, though the damage was less than anticipated.
“The forecast was that Antigua would be devastated, our infrastructure demolished, people killed and our economy destroyed,” Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda said in a statement. “In the light of day, the picture is very different.”
He said his office had received no reports of deaths on either island.
Preliminary reports from Barbuda, he said, “indicate damage” to roofs and “to some buildings.” Irma tore the roof off a police station on Barbuda, forcing officers to take shelter in a nearby fire station, The Associated Press reported.
“The essential point is that our main infrastructure has stood up and our country can resume normal life within hours,” Mr. Browne said, including reopening the airport for arriving and departing flights beginning at 2 p.m.
Elias Hadeed, a retired structural engineer and general contractor in Antigua, said that from his perspective the storm was “much better than expected.” By 6 a.m., he said, the rain had stopped and there had been “no extensive damage” to his garden and his reinforced concrete home.
In St. Kitts and Nevis, Commissioner Ian Queeley of the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force said in a text message that the early reports were encouraging. “Not too bad at this time,” he wrote. “Still plenty rain and strong winds.”
— KIRK SEMPLE and CARL JOSEPH