One of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean is pummeling islands in the Caribbean as it moves towards the U.S.
Hurricane Irma – which has been described as potentially catastrophic with its 185 mph winds – made landfall early Wednesday on the island of Barbuda in the eastern Caribbean, where it killed one person and "decimated" most homes, ABS Television/Radio reports.
The storm then hit the French islands of St. Barts and St. Martin, where two people were killed, CNN says.
Irma then made its way to the northern Virgin Islands, where some people reported windows being blown out, CNN says.
Irma's headed for Puerto Rico
Irma is currently a Category 5 hurricane (the strongest possible on the scale that measures hurricanes) and is expected to stay a Category 5 or 4 hurricane over the next "couple days" as it moves west-northwest, the National Hurricane Center says.
Irma's core – which is being described as "extremely dangerous" – is expected to pass just north of Puerto Rico Wednesday night, the National Hurricane Center said in its 4 p.m. update.
Power outages have already been reported in San Juan, CNN says. The National Hurricane Center notes wind gusts of more than 60 mph have already been reported on Puerto Rico.
“The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we’ve ever seen,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said, according to The Associated Press. “A lot of infrastructure won’t be able to withstand this kind of force.”
After passing north of Puerto Rico, the core of the storm is expected to pass "near or just north" of Hispaniola's coast Thursday, and then reach near the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas by Thursday evening, the National Hurricane Center says.
Forecasts then have Irma moving towards Florida this weekend.
The National Hurricane Center says it's possible the Florida Keys and the Florida Peninsula will feel direct impacts from wind, storm surge and rainfall, but it's still too early to tell if Irma's core will hit the U.S. mainland.
U.S. prepares for Irma
The forecast has Floridians preparing for the worst, including a mandatory evacuation of the Florida Keys.
Florida's Gov. Rick Scott has activated hundreds of National Guard members to help with preparations, and members of Minnesota's American Red Cross are headed to Florida to help out as well, the Star Tribune says.