Forecasters warn the Category 5 hurricane, which is the largest ever formed in the Atlantic, could reach the US mainland by Friday before continuing up the country’s eastern seaboard.
The hurricane has already hit Barbuda and St Barts and St Martin, causing “major damage” and leaving a trail of destruction, according to early reports from officials. Low-lying areas on the French territorial islands have been flooded and widespread damage is expected, according to France’s interior minister Gerard Collomb. He said: “We know that the four most solid buildings on the island have been destroyed which means that more rustic structures have probably been completely or partially destroyed.” And forecasts predict Hurricane Irma, which is the size of France, will continue to crash through the Caribbean before tearing through the US, as portrayed by this new map.
The Virgin Islands are next in line to be hit, with billionaire Richard Branson among those preparing for the worst with landfall expected today. Tomorrow the US territory of Puerto Rico, as well as Haiti and Puerto Rico, two states which share the divided island of Hispaniola, could be hit. On Saturday the Turks and Caicos Islands are predicted to be in the firing line, along with tourist hotspots Cuba and the Bahamas. And it is predicted Hurricane Irma will first hit the American mainland, with Miami in the firing line, along with the Florida Keys island string on Sunday.
Florida governor Rick Scott has already declared a state of emergency amid widespread evacuations across the state, with residents rushing to supermarkets for vital supplies. Early next week the forecast becomes more patchy with meteorologists split over whether Hurricane Irma will continue northwards through America. But if Irma does continue on this route, as many as 10 US states could suffer from the hurricane's severe wind, rain and flooding. On Monday, other Florida cities including Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Tallahassee could be hit by Hurricane Irma, which has sustained winds of 185 mpg and gusts of 225mph.
Some forecasts predict Georgia will be hit by midweek, with the historic city of Savannah in danger from life-threatening winds and ferocious rain. Late next week the hurricane is expected to push even further north through South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. And the weekend of Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 September could see Hurricane Irma hit major US cities in the north-east of the country. Washington DC, Baltimore and New York cities, with their total population of tens of millions of people, could be the hurricane’s final targets before it finally dies out.
Some experts warn Irma's characteristics mirror those of 1960’s Hurricane Donna which left a death toll of almost 400 and destroyed tens of thousands of homes as it swept along the Atlantic coast from the southern tip of Florida to New England in the north. And as Hurricane Irma threatens to bring devastation to huge swathes of the US East Coast, it's feared Irma could be even worse than Donna. Deadly Donna was only a Category 4 storm with maximum wind speeds of around 160mph whereas Irma has already a potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane packing sustained winds of 185mph and more.