Irma powers toward Florida, leaving behind path of death, destruction

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos (Reuters) – Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, drove toward Florida on Friday as it lashed the Caribbean with devastating winds and torrential rain, leaving behind 14 deaths and a swathe of catastrophic destruction.

Irma was about 55 miles (85 km) south of Great Inagua Island early on Friday, after soaking the northern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and pummeling the Turks and Caicos Islands.

A Category 5 hurricane, the highest designation by the National Hurricane Center, the storm has grown as large and France and packed winds as strong as 185 miles per hour (290 km per hour).

It was heading for the Bahamas, where it was expected to bring 20-foot (six-meter) storm surges before moving to Cuba and then slamming into southern Florida as a Category 4 hurricane on Sunday.

22 PHOTOS

Preparing for Hurricane Irma

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ST. PETERSBURG, FL – SEPTEMBER 05: Stan Glass, of St. Petersburg, fills four 5-gallon fuel tanks with gasoline for his boat should he have to evacuate by boat as residents in the area prepare ahead of Hurricane Irma on September 05, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has reported that Hurricane Irma has strengthened to a Category 5 storm as it crosses into the Caribbean and is expected to move on towards Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

A woman looks at empty shelves that are normally filled with bottles of water after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

People buy materials at a hardware store after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

People buy materials at a hardware store after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Workers put boats on dry docks in preparation, as Hurricane Irma, barreling towards the Caribbean and the southern United States, was upgraded to a Category 4 storm, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Customers walk near empty shelves that are normally filled with bottles of water after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

People buy materials at a hardware store after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

People buy material at a hardware store after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Workers put boats on dry docks in preparation, as Hurricane Irma, barreling towards the Caribbean and the southern United States, was upgraded to a Category 4 storm, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Hurricane Irma, a record Category 5 storm, churns across the Atlantic Ocean on a collision course with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, is shown in this NASA GOES satellite image taken at 1715 EDT (2215 GMT) on September 5, 2017. Courtesy NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY

Members of the Civil Defense prepare their gear ahead of Hurricane Irma, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

A member of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) monitors the trajectory of Hurricane Irma in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

A member of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) monitors the trajectory of Hurricane Irma in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

Shoppers in a Home Depot store wait for plywood in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida, September 5, 2017. Residents are preparing for the approach of Hurricane Irma. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Men cover the windows of a auto parts store in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

A man uses a cable to secure the roof of his home in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Men cover the window of a house in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Empty boxes of produce at Costco as customers purchased all the product on September 5, 2017 in Miami. The monster hurricane coming on the heels of Harvey, which struck Texas and Louisiana late last month, is expected to hit a string of Caribbean islands including Guadeloupe late Tuesday before heading to Haiti and Florida. The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Irma had strengthened to the most powerful Category Five, packing winds of 180 miles (280 kilometers) per hour. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

Shoppers at Costco buying essentials in preparation for Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017 in North Miami. The monster hurricane coming on the heels of Harvey, which struck Texas and Louisiana late last month, is expected to hit a string of Caribbean islands including Guadeloupe late Tuesday before heading to Haiti and Florida. The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Irma had strengthened to the most powerful Category Five, packing winds of 180 miles (280 kilometers) per hour. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

Costco ran out of water as people shop to prepare for Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017 in North Miami. The monster hurricane coming on the heels of Harvey, which struck Texas and Louisiana late last month, is expected to hit a string of Caribbean islands including Guadeloupe late Tuesday before heading to Haiti and Florida. The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Irma had strengthened to the most powerful Category Five, packing winds of 180 miles (280 kilometers) per hour. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

Very long checkout lines at Costco as some people waited up to 8 hours to check in, shop and leave in preparation for Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017 in North Miami. The monster hurricane coming on the heels of Harvey, which struck Texas and Louisiana late last month, is expected to hit a string of Caribbean islands including Guadeloupe late Tuesday before heading to Haiti and Florida. The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Irma had strengthened to the most powerful Category Five, packing winds of 180 miles (280 kilometers) per hour. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

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In Miami, hundreds lined up for bottled water and cars looped around city blocks to get gas on Thursday. Gasoline shortages in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area worsened on Thursday, with sales up to five times the norm.

In Palm Beach, the waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate owned by U.S. President Donald Trump was ordered evacuated, media said. Trump also owns property on the French side of Saint Martin, an island devastated by the storm.

A mandatory evacuation on Georgia’s Atlantic coast was due to begin on Saturday, Governor Nathan Deal said.

16 PHOTOS

Impact of Hurricane Irma on Caribbean islands

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People pick up debris as Hurricane Irma howled past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma sowed a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean on Wednesday, reducing to rubble the tropical islands of Barbuda and St Martin. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Gerben VAN ES / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT ‘AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES’ – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – NO ARCHIVES – NO SALE- DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)

Hurricane Irma, ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, churns across the Atlantic Ocean past Puerto Rico over Dominican Republic in this NASA GOES satellite image taken at 1715 EDT (2115 GMT) on September 6, 2017. Courtesy NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY

Fallen trees block a street as Hurricane Irma howls past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

A man reacts in the winds and rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Luquillo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma sowed a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean on Wednesday, reducing to rubble the tropical islands of Barbuda and St Martin. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Gerben van Es / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT ‘AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES’ – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – NO ARCHIVES – NO SALE- DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)

TOPSHOT – An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma sowed a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean on Wednesday, reducing to rubble the tropical islands of Barbuda and St Martin. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Gerben van Es / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT ‘AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES’ – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – NO ARCHIVES – NO SALE- DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)

Yves (L) removes items from his roof in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irma in Lauriers neighborhood of Cap-Haitien, on September 6, 2017, 240 km from Port-au-Prince. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Search and rescue crew members clears a fallen tree over a road during a search mission as hurricane Irma hits Puerto Rico in Fajardo on September 6,2017. Irma is expected to reach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by nightfall on September 6. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)

Search and rescue crew members clears a fallen tree during a search mission as hurricane Irma hits Puerto Rico in Fajardo on September 6, 2017. Irma is expected to reach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by nightfall on September 6. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)

A bulldozer cleans debris in a canal, in Cap-Haitien, on September 6, 2017, 240 km from Port-au-Prince, in preparation before the arrival of Hurricane Irma. Some people in Cap-Haitien still do not have information on the arrival of Hurricane Irma and many others do not know what to do or where to go to take shelter. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

People take shelter in a school as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Children in a low-income neighborhood carry containers for water as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

TOPSHOT – Jean looks at the sea from a house where he is working in the neighborhood of Aviation in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, on September 7, 2017. Hurricane Irma is barrelling past Haiti towards the Turks and Caicos Islands, and then the Bahamas. Irma has produced sustained winds at 295kph (183mph) for more than 33 hours, making it the longest-lasting, top-intensity cyclone ever recorded, France’s weather service said Thursday. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

FAJARDO, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 06: Debris is seen during a storm surge near the Puerto Chico Harbor during the passing of Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017 in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. The category 5 storm is expected to pass over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands today, and make landfall in Florida by the weekend. (Photo by Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)

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Irma has ravaged a series of small islands in the northeast Caribbean, including Barbuda, Saint Martin and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, ripping down trees and flattening homes and hospitals.

A Reuters witness described the roof and walls of a well-built house shaking hard as the storm rocked the island of Providenciales and caused a drop in pressure that could be felt in people’s chests.

Throughout the islands in its wake, shocked locals tried to comprehend the extent of the devastation – and simultaneously got ready for another major hurricane, Jose, now a Category 3 and due in the northeastern Caribbean on Saturday.

DEATHS RISE

Four people died in the U.S. Virgin islands, a government spokesman said, and a major hospital was badly damaged by the wind. A U.S. amphibious assault ship arrived in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Thursday and sent helicopters for medical evacuations from the destroyed hospital.

A man was reported missing after trying to cross a river in Cerca La Source in Haiti’s Central Plateau region.

Barbuda, where one person died, was reduced “to rubble”, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said. In the British overseas territory of Anguilla, another person was killed and the hospital, airport and power and phone services were damaged, emergency service officials said.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said four bodies were recovered on the French-Dutch island of Saint Martin, which was hit hard.

Three people were killed in Puerto Rico and around two-thirds of the population lost electricity, Governor Ricardo Rossello said after the storm rolled by the U.S. territory’s northern coast. A surfer was also reported killed in Barbados.

The storm passed just to the north of the island of Hispaniola, shared by Dominican Republic and Haiti, causing some damage to roofs, flooding and power outages as it approached the impoverished Haitian side, which is particularly vulnerable to hurricanes and rain, although it did not make landfall.

Cuba started evacuating some of the 51,000 tourists visiting the island, particularly 36,000 people at resorts on the northern coast. In Caibarien, a coastal town in the hurricane’s predicted path, residents were heading farther inland.

Irma was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the five most forceful storms to hit the Atlantic basin in 82 years, according to the NHC.

The storm activity comes after Hurricane Harvey claimed about 60 lives and caused property damage estimated at as much as $ 180 billion in Texas and Louisiana.

For a graphic on map of Irma’s predicted path, click: here

For a graphic on historical perspective of Irma, click: here

Reporting by Brendan O’Brien, editing by Larry King

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