Two people have died after Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean islands, the French government has confirmed.
The victims were in French overseas territory as heavy rain and historic, 185-mph winds lashed the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico’s northeast coast Wednesday as Hurricane Irma roared through Caribbean islands on its way to a possible devastating hit on Florida.
The category five storm - the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever measured - destroyed homes and flooded streets across a chain of small islands in the northern Caribbean, passing directly over Barbuda and leaving the island of some 1,700 people incommunicado.
France sent emergency food and water rations to the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, where Irma ripped off roofs and knocked out all electricity.
As well as the two fatalities, two others were injured in the French Caribbean islands, France’s overseas minister said.
Irma is expected to become the second most powerful storm to thrash the US mainland in as many weeks.
Hurricane Harvey killed more than 60 people when it ravaged parts of southern Texas and Louisiana late last month.
Irma is shaping up to be such a threat that even the experts are upping their warnings, branding it “potentially catastrophic”.
Photos and video show heavy flooding and extensive damage to buildings and streets.
Florida’s governor is urging residents and tourists to take Hurricane Irma seriously, warning that the record-breaking storm is “bigger, faster and stronger” than Hurricane Andrew, which devastated the state 25 years ago.
Rick Scott implored people to “get out quickly” if local officials have ordered them to evacuate, adding that he had waived highway tolls across the state to streamline the process.
“Do not ignore evacuation orders,” Scott said during a news conference on Wednesday. “Remember: We can rebuild your home, but we cannot rebuild your life.”
Mandatory evacuations are in effect for the Florida Keys and parts of Miami-Dade County, where Irma could make landfall by early Monday. Scott said he expects additional evacuations to be issued as the storm continues to barrel toward the continental United States.
“It’s too early to tell, but it’s important that all Floridians keep an eye on this,” he said. “Do not sit and wait for [Irma] to come. Get prepared right now.”