While South Florida watches Hurricane Irma’s dangerous approach, the record storm already began tearing through the Caribbean Wednesday morning. But Irma’s path across the basin could help limit its destruction there.
The first to feel Irma’s fierce Category 5 winds were the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean. Gusts were clocked at 155 miles per hour at Antigua and Barbuda. Still, the storm’s center passed to the north, and officials said the island nation emerged better than expected.
Elliott Mason, who owns a Miami tech firm and is an Antigua native, spoke with his family there after Irma passed. They told him Barbuda island, north of Antigua, was hit harder. And now they have to prepare for Hurricane Jose this weekend.
“They’re getting a back-to-back," Mason said. "And they’re still trying to establish communication with Barbuda.”
But to Antigua and Barbuda’s northwest, reports indicate Irma was much more destructive. The storm center passed directly over St. Martin, which suffered devastating floods and damage. The British and U.S. Virgin Islands to the west are expected to get the same.
A big concern is the next island west: Puerto Rico. Irma’s eye is forecast to pass off the north coast and the capital of San Juan Wednesday evening. But Puerto Ricans like Gustavo Meza, an IT official for San Juan’s government, say fears are high nonetheless.
“This hurricane is very, very dangerous," Meza said. "Even if its center passes away from us, its diameter is really big and we'll feel its impact. This is the first time in the life of Puerto Rico that a hurricane is Category 5-plus.”
After Puerto Rico, Irma is also forecast to pass to the north of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before hitting the southern Bahama islands. And then probably making contact with Florida.