Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 monster with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, was passing just north of Puerto Rico on Wednesday night, the National Hurricane Center said, and Puerto Rican authorities said about half of the island doesn't have power and some 50,000 residents don't have water. Parts of the U.S. territory could be without electricity for four to six months, Puerto Rico's power utility has warned.
Before hitting Puerto Rico, Irma's eye passed over the British Virgin Islands on Wednesday afternoon and raked the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Martin, and other islands, after damaging or demolishing nearly every building on Barbuda. About 60 percent of the island's 1,400 inhabitants are now homeless, the telecommunications structure was destroyed, and a 2-year-old child was killed, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne tells The Associated Press.
Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, is expected to remain a Category 5 or 4 hurricane over the next few days as it hits the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba, en route to Florida on Sunday. Right now, the hurricane is forecast to hit the Miami metropolitan area, though it could change direction. "This thing is a buzz saw," says Colorado State University meteorology professor Phil Klotzbach. "I don't see any way out of it." One plausible path has Irma pounding Miami then working its way up Florida's entire eastern coast before hitting Georgia and North and South Carolina, all of which have declared states of emergency.
President Trump has approved emergency declarations for Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But he could be affected, too. "If it goes right up the Gold Coast like the current models are saying, then the Gold Coast is going to become the Mud Coast," says Jeff Masters, director of the Weather Underground forecasting service. "That includes Mar-a-Lago."
Irma has fed on near-perfect conditions, including water that is 1.8 degrees warmer than usual and no upper winds slowing it down, explains AP science writer Seth Borenstein. "You can't exaggerate how bad this thing is. This is nature at its most fierce."