Monster Hurricane Irma has slammed into the island of Barbuda early Wednesday as it barreled its way across the Caribbean with ferocious winds and potential for towering coastal surges.
According to the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center, the eye of the rare Category Five storm made landfall on Barbuda — part of the twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda — just before 0600 GMT with winds gusting at up to 185 mph (295 kph)).
The storm is headed northwest toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, with potential for storm surges of up to 20 feet (six meters) above normal tide levels, it added.
The NHC had on Tuesday said that while Irma was in the Atlantic headed for the Caribbean it was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in that ocean.
Ahead of the storm, which comes on the heels of the devastating Hurricane Harvey late last month in Texas, people packed shelters, stocked up on provisions and evacuated tourist areas as far north as Florida. The storm is expected to last for days.
The NHC said in a bulletin at 0600 GMT that the eye of Irma was passing over Barbuda.
As people hunkered down in the north of the Caribbean arc known as the Leeward Islands, the NHC said Irma was a potentially catastrophic storm.
Power was turned off across Antigua as a safety precaution because power lines are above ground. Families packed shelters. One after another, scared people sitting in the dark called in to radio stations.
The core of the hurricane was expected to move over other parts of the northern Leeward Islands early Wednesday, the NHC said.
It will then head northwest toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico later Wednesday or Wednesday night.
Category Five is the highest on the scale for hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean.