Here's what's happening:
- This live story is now closed. Please read BuzzFeed News' latest story on Hurricane Irma here.
- Hurricane Irma continues its trail of destruction as it moves towards Florida, making landfall in Cuba late Friday night after devastating other Caribbean islands in recent days.
- The outer bands of the storm began hitting southern Florida on Saturday morning, with the National Weather Service warning residents to "expect damaging winds and heavy rain."
- There are mandatory evacuation orders in place for parts of southern Florida, including the Keys. "THIS IS AS REAL AS IT GETS," the NWS warned in a dire tweet. "NOWHERE IN THE FLORIDA KEYS WILL BE SAFE."
- Highways have been packed as people flee the state, while Miami is virtually a ghost town.
- The storm has prompted President Trump to declare states of emergency for Puerto Rico, Florida, and the US Virgin Islands.
- Caribbean islands experienced widespread damage, with the premier of the British Virgin Islands describing a scene of "total devastation."
- At least 24 fatalities have been reported as of Saturday, with deaths in St. Martin, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, Barbados, and Anguilla.
- For information on how to donate and help hurricane victims, go here.
- The storm comes just more than a week after Harvey blasted into the Texas coast, causing dozens of deaths and historic flooding.
Irma's projected path and evacuation zones:
Florida evacuation orders by lettered zones. Zone A corresponds to low lying coastal areas most at risk from storm surge flooding. (All times ET)
Florida's zoo animals get shelters of their own
Cheetahs and flamingoes, elephants and tigers, thousands of animals in Florida's zoos and exhibitions will largely ride out Hurricane Irma in secure enclosures, zoo operators report, with evacuations for only for the most vulnerable ones.
The Sunshine State is home to more than 50 zoos and aquariums, from Gatorland to SeaWorld to Zoo Miami.
Those in the southern and central parts of the state are widely reporting early closings, and efforts focused on sheltering their charges in place.
Read more about the special preparations here. —Dan Vergano
Miami residents cautiously optimistic about storm's changing path
MIAMI — Residents of Miami and surrounding areas breathed a small sigh of relief on Saturday, as the direct path of Hurricane Irma was forecasted to head to the west of Florida.
The city is still facing destructive weather conditions as a result of the powerful storm, with curfews due to be imposed later on Saturday.
But after days of fearing the eye of the hurricane would strike their city directly, the storm's westward motion was met with relief from locals.
“I’m relieved we are going to be OK,” said Claudia Londono, 40, a housewife, who lives in Mid-Beach in a seventh floor condo on the water. She’d evacuated with her chihuahua to a hotel near Miami International Airport, away from storm surge and closer to authorities.
Read more here. —Amber Jamieson and Lissandra Villa
Florida extends evacuation orders, as Miami imposes a curfew
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has called for the evacuation of another 700,000 residents of his state, bringing the total number of people under evacuation orders to almost seven million.
The evacuation order covers both coasts of the state, and means around a third of the population of Florida has been ordered to leave their homes.
Meanwhile, Mayor Philip Levine has enacted a curfew for the city of Miami Beach from 8:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., while Mayor Tomás Regalado has enacted a curfew for the city of Miami from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.
Although the storm has moved west, the evacuation orders in Miami-Dade County have still expanded to Zone B and portions of Zone C.
Kristen Bell saves Frozen co-star's family from Irma
"So @kristenanniebell literally saved my parents and my entire family tonight from #hurricaneirma," actor Josh Gad revealed on Instagram. "When they were stranded in Florida, she got them a hotel room at her hotel in Orlando and saved them, my brothers, my sister-in-law and niece and nephew."
Read the story here. — Stephen LaConte
Florida governor: "The storm surge will rush in and it could kill you"
As the expected level of possible storm surge from Hurricane Irma in Florida rises to as high as 15 feet, Gov. Rick Scott has warned people of the serious danger posed by the flooding.
"There is a serious threat of significant storm surge flooding along the entire west coast of Florida, and this has increased to 15 feet of impact above ground level," he told reporters in Winter Park.
"Think about that. Fifteen feet is devastating and will cover your house," he said.
The outer bands of Irma began hitting south Florida earlier on Saturday as a category 3 hurricane, but it is expected to strengthen as the eye of the storm moves over the ocean from Cuba.
Scott said Florida had never seen anything like the storm.
"Do not think the storm is over when the wind slows down. Local officials will let you know when it's safe," he warned. "The storm surge will rush in and it could kill you."
Irma's death toll rises in the Caribbean
With Caribbean islands digging out from Hurricane Irma, and some evacuating in the face of oncoming Hurricane Jose, at least 24 deaths are now attributable to the first storm from government releases or direct news accounts.
As of Saturday morning, the largest death toll comes from the French island of Saint Martin, where nine people were killed, while another fatality was recorded on Sint Maarten, the Dutch side of the island.
In US territories, four people were killed in Puerto Rico and three in the US Virgin Islands, with another 4 deaths reported on the British Virgin Islands. One death has been reported on the island of Barbuda, and one in Anguilla, a two-year-old child. Teenager pro surfer Zander Venezia, 16, died surfing Irma-enlarged swells in Barbados.
Other news outlet estimates range from 20 deaths to more than 23. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency had estimated 23 deaths on Thursday. — Dan Vergano
Storm surge threat grows in latest advisory
The expected level of storm surge in Florida from Hurricane Irma has grown in the latest advisory, the National Weather Service has warned.
"The threat of catastrophic storm surge flooding is highest along the southwest coast of Florida, where 10 to 15 feet of inundation above ground level is expected," the NWS's National Hurricane Center said. "This is a life-threatening situation and everyone in these areas should immediately follow any evacuation instructions from local officials."
The previous advisory had warned of storm surges of up to 12 feet.
The NWS has warned of "imminent danger of life-threatening storm surge flooding" in parts of central and southern Florida, including the Keys.
The storm is continuing to pound the north coast of Cuba, where a hurricane warning has been extended to Havana province.
As it moves over the island, the storm has weakened slightly, but the NWS warns Irma is expected to restrengthen and "remain a very dangerous hurricane for the next two days while moving very near the Florida peninsula."
Irma strikes Cuba with fury
Hurricane Irma brought 155 mile-per-hour wind gusts and widespread coastal flooding as it scraped along Cuba's northern coast, the Cuban Institute of Meteorology said.
Irma hit Cuba late on Friday, arriving on Ciego de Avila province on the Camaguey Archipelago as a revived Category 5 hurricane, the first one to strike the island nation since 1924. The storm was downgraded to a Category 4 storm as its moved along the Cuban coast, but is expected to revive again as it heads north for Florida.
"During the afternoon, tidal and flood conditions will become strong on the north coast of Mayabeque, Havana and Artemisa," forecast the institute on Saturday morning. Havana's famed Malecon esplanade and seawall will see waves 20 to 26 feet high.
Heavy rains and sustained winds of 130 miles per hour, reportedly brought down trees and streetlights, as well as taking out power in some parts of the first hit Cuban province. The winds also took out some weather instruments as it went.
More coastal flooding is expected from waves estimated as high as 23 feet as the storm travels, with a turn north expected after Irma batters Havana.
— Dan Vergano
Florida governor: "The storm is here."
Hurricane Irma has begun lashing Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday morning, with winds of up to 130 miles per hour felt in the Florida Keys and mass power outages.
"The storm is here," Scott told reporters Saturday. "Hurricane Irma is now impacting our state."
"Southeast Florida is already experiencing Tropical Storm-force winds and nearly 25,000 people have already lost power," he said.
The National Weather Service said the hurricane's outer bands began striking Miami-Dade county earlier on Saturday morning, with damaging winds and heavy rains expected.
Gov. Scott warned residents of storm surges of up to 12 feet.
"This will cover your house. If you've ever watched how storm surges work, it flows in fast, very fast, and then it flows out. You will not survive all this storm surge," he warned.
More than 5.6 million Floridians have been ordered to evacuate, and Scott urged people living in mandatory evacuation zones to flee immediately.
"If you have been ordered to evacuate, you need to leave now. Do not wait. Evacuate. Not tonight, not in an hour. You need to go right now," he said.
Those in the state's southwest need to be on the road by noon or find shelter, the governor warned.
There are more than 260 shelters currently open in the state, with at least 70 more due to open today. Some 50,000 Floridians have already sought shelter.
"There is still room for more," Scott said.
Hurricane Irma's edge starts to reach Miami
As the outer bands of Hurricane Irma are starting to reach Miami-Dade County, the forecast path of the massive storm's center has shifted to Florida's western coast.
Now less than 225 miles south of the county of 2.7 million people, Irma has been "hitting hard" the northern half of Cuba, according to the National Weather Service.
Still a Category 4 storm, it is expected to restrengthen as it traverses the warm waters of the Florida Keys bringing winds up to 145 miles per hour.
And it has shifted west. Traveling to the northwest at 12 miles per hour, the storm some 70 miles wide in its hurricane force winds, is now projected to pass over Tampa.
Such a shift may to the West coast may be a "worst-case scenario," Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert said on Friday. "Because right now, it's my belief that people haven't been planning for that."
— Dan Vergano
Huge storm surge warnings in place as Irma bears down on Florida
Hurricane, storm surge and tropical storm warnings have been extended across Florida and into Georgia as Hurricane Irma moves across Cuba and to the US.
At 5 a.m. Saturday the National Hurricane Center said Irma had become a Category 4 hurricane, with maximum winds of 155 mph.
Its centre is forecast to move near the north coast of Cuba today, near the Florida Keys Sunday morning, then the southwest coast of Florida Sunday afternoon.
"Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is expected to remain a powerful hurricane as it approaches Florida," the NHC said.
In the Keys, a storm surge of up to between 5 to 10 feet is being predicted, if a peak surge occurs at the time of high tide.
Meanwhile hurricane and storm surge warnings have been extended along the Florida west coast from Anclote River to Chassahowitzka; hurricane warnings have been extended along the state's east coast to the Flagler/Volusia County Line; and a tropical storm watch has been issued north of Fernandina Beach to Altamaha sound, Georgia.
Some College Students Say They Have Nowhere To Go As Irma Bears Down On Florida
With Hurricane Irma roiling toward Florida on Friday, colleges dotting the state were forced to evacuate dorms and campus buildings, leaving students scrambling to find places to stay in the midst of the largest evacuation in state history.
For college students in Irma's path, some just a few days into their freshman year, the hurricane presents a particularly difficult situation. The skyrocketing cost of last-minute plane tickets means students who are studying far from home have no way to get there. But those who come from Florida say they are similarly stranded, with no home to go to as their parents, too, flee the state.
At the University of Central Florida in Orlando, campus is closed: some dorms were evacuated, university facilities were shuttered, and classes and the football game was canceled.
Irma makes landfall in Cuba as a Category 5 hurricane
Hurricane Irma made landfall Friday night on Cuba's Camaguey archipelago as a Category 5 hurricane with185 mph winds, the National Hurricane Center said.
Irma is the first Category 5 hurricane to strike Cuba since 1924, according to Colorado State University Meteorologist Philip Klotzbach.
Irma was upgraded to a Category 5 storm, the highest on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, just before reaching the island nation.
"Fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is expected to remain a powerful hurricane as it approaches Florida," federal forecasters said.
Irma is expected to move near the north coast of Cuba through most of Saturday, then approach the Florida Keys by Sunday morning. By Sunday afternoon, it is expected to make landfall on Florida's southwest coast.
Hurricane Irma arrives at Cuba's northern coast
The eye of Hurricane Irma is moving along Cuba's north coast, according to the National Hurricane Hurricane Center.
Irma had sustained winds of about 155 mph, making it a Category 4 hurricane as it moved along the island nation. Still, the hurricane could strengthen as it moves toward Florida, forecasters warned.
Irma is currently moving west, and was expected to turn northwest sometime late Saturday.
According to the National Hurricane Hurricane Center, Irma will approach the Florida Keys and the southern tip of Florida sometime Sunday morning.
South Carolina governor issues mandatory evacuation order for barrier islands and coastal areas
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster ordered the mandatory evacuation of coastal areas and barrier islands Friday ahead of Hurricane Irma's expected US landfall.
McMaster had already signed an executive order Wednesday declaring a state of emergency and asked residents of the state to prepare for the hurricane. On Friday, he ordered the evacuation of multiple barrier islands as Irma neared the US.
The evacuations, which would begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, include Edisto Beach, Dafuskie, Fripp, Harbor, Hunting, and Hilton Head islands in Beaufort County, McMaster announced on Twitter.
Knowles and Tullifiny in Jasper County are also under evacuation.
About 5.6 million Florida residents have been told to evacuate ahead of Irma
About 5.6 million people have been asked to leave their homes as Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, state emergency officials told the Associated Press.
Many of those evacuations are concentrated along the state's coasts and southern half, but people living farther inland, in substandard housing, have been asked to leave because of the storm, Florida's hurricane program manager Andrew Sussman told the news agency.
That would mean more than a quarter of Florida's population has been asked to get out of the destructive path Irma is expected to cut through the state once it makes landfall this weekend.
Public officials have been urging people to heed evacuation orders.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management has included a list of evacuation orders across the state, here.
Hurricane warning extended northward in Florida as Irma approaches
Officials have extended a hurricane warning to new areas in Florida as Irma's intensity continues to fluctuate.
The National Hurricane Center extended the hurricane warning northward up the state's east coast to Sebastian Inlet and along the west coast to Anna Maria Island, just south of Tampa.
A hurricane watch was extended northward along the state's west coast to the Suwannee River.
The federal meteorologists predict Irma will strike the Florida Keys as a Category 5 hurricane with 160 mph winds.
"After landfall, interaction with land and an increase in wind shear should induce gradual weakening," the NHC said.
Officials predict the eye of the storm to be near the Florida Keys on Sunday morning.
"Irma is expected to make landfall in Florida as an extremely dangerous major hurricane," the NHC warned, "and will bring life-threatening wind impacts to much of the state regardless of the exact track of the center."
The National Weather Service's Key West Twitter account pleaded with people to flee the area.
"THIS IS AS REAL AS IT GETS," they warned. NOWHERE IN THE FLORIDA KEYS WILL BE SAFE. YOU STILL HAVE TIME TO EVACUATE."
Turks and Caicos government gives the "all-clear" following Irma
Governor Dr. John Freeman and Premier Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson issued a statement on Facebook saying Irma has passed and the "all-clear" has been given.
They are still assessing the extent of the damages inflicted on the islands while restoring critical services.
"We extend our commiserations to those who have had their homes or businesses damaged," the statement reads, ending with "we have survived Irma, for which we give thanks."
—Mary Ann Georgantopoulos
Disney World closing on Saturday due to Irma
Walt Disney World resort in Florida will shut early on Saturday due to the impending threat posed by Hurricane Irma, the company announced.
Disney World theme parks, the Epcot center, shopping complex Disney Springs, and ESPN Wide World of Sports will all shut Saturday and be closed until at least Tuesday.
Fireworks shows are also canceled, but resort hotels will remain open for guests.
US citizens being evacuated from Virgin Islands and St. Martin after Irma
US citizens stranded in the Virgin Islands and on the Dutch/French island of St. Martin after the destructive Hurricane Irma are being evacuated, Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert said Friday.
"[Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp] is experiencing loss of power, loss of water as a result, loss of communications, and some other sheltering needs," Bossert said.
Bossert said the American citizens would be evacuated by "air operations and surface operations."
The homeland security adviser said officials were making plans for all eventualities of the storm's possible path.
"What we'll see here and over the next 24 hours will tell us which one we are going to face," Bossert said.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Trump was "constantly monitoring" the hurricane.
"Our message to the American people is this: With gratitude for our first responders and prayers for those in the storm's path, we are behind you 100%," she said.
Sanders was asked by a reporter if Mar-A-Lago, Trump's Palm Beach club, would be opened to the public as a shelter if it survives the hurricane undamaged. She referred the question to the Trump Organization.
A spokesperson for the Trump Organization told BuzzFeed News they would "check."
Key West officials urge those with special needs to evacuate
Officials in Monroe County may be unable to provide transportation for people with special needs due to the risks associated with high winds during the storm, the National Weather Service warned.
Officials said those with special needs should seek shelter at Florida International University or the Miami-Dade County Fairgrounds, and that transportation is available on public buses making regular stops on the US 1 Highway.
“This may be the only chance you have to evacuate,” the NWS warned.
People are catching the last flights out of Miami before Irma hits
MIAMI — Florida residents and tourists rushed to Miami International Airport on Friday to catch the final departing flights as Hurricane Irma — a powerful, already-fatal storm with a width is larger than the entire Florida peninsula — bears down on the state.
Two airport employees told BuzzFeed News the airport would close Friday afternoon.
Several people vacationing in the area told BuzzFeed News they abruptly changed their plans as forecasts show the storm — which is expected to slam into the Florida Keys and south Florida around 8 a.m. Sunday with winds greater than 110 mph — potentially making a direct hit on Miami.
"I had to board up six properties before I could leave," said Richard Robinson, a Key West property owner. He added when he arrived at the airport there were only about 20 parking spots left for his car, and that it ended up staying on the ground level.
Read more here.
Irma could cost Miami "well in excess of" $100 billion
Just a week after Tropical Storm Harvey hit Houston with a record-breaking 51 inches of rain, Hurricane Irma is expected to make landfall in southeast Florida at 8am on Sunday as the most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record.
Whereas Harvey’s five days of rain and Houston’s massive urban sprawl rapidly choked its many roadways with floods, Miami will face a different beast. By Friday, storm surges were estimated at 5 to 10 feet of water, winds had reached 150 miles per hour, and Miami-Dade county had ordered an unprecedented 650,000 residents who live along the low-lying regions of the coast to evacuate. Miami, with its warm coastline waters, low elevation, rising sea levels, and ever-growing cluster of luxury condos, is at risk for even more damages.
“Southeast Florida is the most vulnerable place in the whole country to hurricane damage,” Karen Clark, CEO of catastrophe modeling firm Karen Clark & Company, told BuzzFeed News.
Read more here.
How can Florida move millions of people out of Irma's way?
With Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida, mandatory evacuations have started across the southern half of the Sunshine State, putting millions of people on the move.
In response to the storm, mandatory evacuations of the coasts have started everywhere from Miami to Savannah, Georgia. Florida governor Rick Scott ordered evacuations, first voluntary, later to become mandatory for cities south of Lake Okeechobee, after the US Army Corps of Engineers warned of flooding from water passing over its dike.
Beginning Thursday, traffic jams and long lines for gas have plagued I-75, one of the two major highways for moving people north.
“Florida is much more prepared and ready than other states. But the highways weren’t designed to empty the state,” Joe Trainor of the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center told BuzzFeed News. “This will be a real challenge.”
Read more about how the state can safely evacuate citizens here. —Dan Vergano
Governor Scott evacuates area around an inland Florida lake, over concerns about a dike's resilience
After the Army Corps of Engineers reviewed the projected impact of Hurricane Irma on dike systems, Florida Governor Rick Scott ordered the cities surrounding the southern half of Lake Okeechobee, an inland lake, from Lake Point to Palm Beach and Glades County.
The engineers expressed concerns about excessive wind pushing water over the dike, causing flooding, though they assured the Governor the structural integrity would not be compromised, he said at a press conference.
"The decision was made due to the sole focus on life safety," he said.
The governor also warned Floridians that gas stations would not be refilled after Friday evening, asking that those evacuating not take more fuel than necessary to get to shelter.
– Cora Lewis
Florida Governor urges all residents to head inland immediately, saying, "We can rebuild your home. We can't rebuild your life."
Florida Governor Rick Scott warned all Floridians Friday morning that they "will quickly run out of weather to evacuate" in a press conference on preparations for Irma, which is now forecast to bring 8 to 12 inches of rain, with isolated areas receiving up to 20 inches.
The governor said the majority of the state will experience "major hurricane impacts with deadly storm surge and life-threatening winds" along the entire east and west coast.
"The roads will fill up quickly, so you need to go now," he said. "Possessions can be replaced. Your family cannot be replaced... Remember we can rebuild your home. We can't rebuild your life."
In the briefing, the governor said the state has increased the number of state troopers on roadways to 1,700, working 12-hour shifts to keep traffic moving, and suspended all administrative duties for officers so they can focus on evacuations. All tolls have been waived on roadways and 7,000 National Guard members have been activated to help with relief. The fish and wildlife conservation is also preparing search and rescue teams for potential deployment and has more than 200 officers standing by.
The state has 13 traffic management centers at work and is using southbound lanes to get needed gas and supplies to shelters and families in the southern part of the state, while Google's emergency response team is working to prepare to close roads in Google maps in real time in the event that Hurricane Irma forces a closure of any roads in the aftermath of the storm, he said.
One of the state's top priorities is also fuel availability, according to the governor, and the federal government has waived some rules and regulations to allow more fuel to get to the state's roads. State law enforcement are working to escort people who need gas to stations, and three tanker ships delivered 8.4 million gallons of fuel to Port Tamp Thursday, Scott said.
The state is also working with out-of-state utilities and electrical contracting companies to secure additional resources for power, and all public schools, state colleges, state universities and state offices have been closed for normal activities effective Friday through Monday.
The Florida restaurant lodging association has encouraged all hotels to waive pet policies and offer shelter, and over 17,000 people have signed up to volunteer, Scott said.
"We are running out of time. The storm is almost here," he said. "If you are in an evacuation zone, we cannot save you in the middle of the storm."
– Cora Lewis
Nine people are confirmed dead in the French-controlled Caribbean islands, the Interior Minister said
Nine people have been killed and at least seven are missing in Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy, French interior minister Gérard Collomb said in a press conference Friday.
An additional 112 people have been confirmed injured, two severely, he said, and cautioned that the toll could continue to rise.
The numbers bring the death count of Hurricane Irma to at least 11.
– Cora Lewis and Jules Darmanin
The iconic Art Deco hotels of South Beach are boarded up awaiting Irma
Miami's famed art deco district in South Beach usually throngs with tourists — but on Thursday afternoon, the area was near empty and the iconic hotels boarded up, after a mandatory evacuation was issued in anticipation of Hurricane Irma.
On Thursday afternoon, only a few dozen people remained on the beach.
Locals Brian Russell and Claudia Cerda, who live three blocks back from the beach in a second-floor apartment, had just been for a swim and were still trying to decide their hurricane plans.
“We haven’t made a decision yet. This would be our first endeavor into a hurricane so we’re kinda playing it by ear at this point,” said Russell.
Cerda works at the front desk of the Victor Hotel on Ocean Drive, and said on Thursday night they'd warned all guests they had 24 hours to evacuate. She said the hotel would close until Monday.
Miami Beach's Art Deco Historic District is made up of over 800 buildings and structures built in the 1920s, 30s and early 40s. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world.
Although the streets were mostly bare, some tourists still tried to soak up the architecture, including a pair of newlyweds whose marriage is off to a stormy start.
Read more here.
– Amber Jameison
The hard-hit Virgin Islands evacuates a St. Thomas hospital as Florida prioritizes the electricity-dependent in the state
St. Thomas hospital, the main hospital on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, is evacuating all patients to St. Croix or Puerto Rico, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price said Friday, as the islands continue to feel the effects of Hurricane Irma.
As the storm heads for the mainland US, both HHS and FEMA have pre-deployed teams in Atlanta, southern Georgia, and Dallas to help support those evacuating from Florida.
Secretary Price said HHS has extended waivers so that medications can be provided for a longer period of time through pharmacies, and has begun identify Floridians who are electricity-dependent for their health needs -- "whether it's folks on oxygen concentrators or dialysis patients or individuals who have electric wheelchairs that they use in order to be mobile."
Price said there are over 20,000 electricity-dependent, with about 5,400 dialysis patients and about 6,700 patients electricity-dependent on oxygen concentrators.
"Whatever befalls us because of the storm, I can assure the American people your federal government is working as diligently as we can to make sure to address the needs as they arise," Price said.
– Cora Lewis
Irma batters the Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos, as it brings "total devastation" to the British Virgin Islands
Despite weakening to a Category 4 storm overnight Thursday, Hurricane Irma brought winds nearing 160 mph to the Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos Islands in the early hours of Friday.
The National Hurricane Center said that the storm would "continue to bring threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards" to the countries in its path until Saturday.
Orlando Smith, premier of the British Virgin Islands, which were battered by the storm on Thursday, spoke of "total devastation" in the country.
In the Bahamas, Captain Stephen Russell of the country's national emergency agency told the BBC Radio 4's Today program that five islands — all with populations of less than 1,000 each — were likely to be worst hit by the storm: Great Inagua, Mayaguana, Acklins, Crooked Islands, and Ragged Island.
All the people on those islands were asked to leave, and were flown to the capital Nassau, along with residents from the Bimini islands, he added.
Russell said he was concerned about anyone remaining on the islands who ignored evacuation appeals, The Guardian reported: “I fear for those person who chose not to evacuate from the islands. The government has made a very strong appeal to them. But some are simply stubborn. There is very little we can do to assistant until Monday or Tuesday. That is fear, that when we go into those areas we are going to find persons in serious distress and even fatalities.”
Weather satellites recorded Irma slamming into Great Inagua — the most populous of the evacuated islands — in the early hours of Friday morning.
The nearby Turks and Caicos Islands – where the highest point is just 163 feet – were also badly hit by Irma on Friday morning.
The country's Department of Disaster Management (DDME) said on Facebook that the country is "currently experiencing tropical force winds."
"Residents are encouraged to remain indoors until DDME has issued an ALL CLEAR when it is deemed safe to do so!" the department added.
Fears for the Turks and Caicos will be heightened as the highest point on the islands is just 50 meters (163 feet).
The premier of the Irma-hit British Virgin Islands, Dr. Orlando Smith, also posted on Facebook to issue an update on the damage to the territory.
Smith wrote: "This has been a harrowing experience for all of us. We know of fatalities caused by Irma and I am truly saddened about this. My heart goes out to families that have suffered great loss and especially those that have lost loved ones.
"But I thank God that most of our lives are spared and we know where there is life there is hope.
"There can be no sugar coating; there has been almost total devastation of homes and businesses as each and every one of us has suffered some loss. Assessments shall be made as soon as possible, but I can tell you that our beloved Territory has suffered greatly."
Premier Smith added that the National Emergency Operations Centre was operational, and plans were in place to provide food, rescue, and shelter to those who need it.
Many of the islands will be on further alert over the coming days, as Hurricane Jose has formed in the Atlantic with sustained wind of 125 mph, and could hit some of the same places that were pummeled by Irma.
— Francis Whittaker
Hurricane Irma weakens to a Category 4 storm, but remains powerful hurricane
Hurricane Irma weakened to a category 4 storm as it continued to barrel through the southeastern Bahamas toward Florida early Friday morning.
Despite downgrading it from a category 5, the National Hurricane Center warned that Irma remains "an extremely dangerous" storm and "will continue to bring life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards."
Severe hurricane conditions are expected to hit the Florida peninsula and the Florida Keys Saturday night, with the core of the storm expected to cover the area by Sunday morning.
Irma's potential path of destruction all but certain to consume South Florida, forecasters say
The potential for deadly and destructive storm surges as a result of Hurricane Irma spread across most of South Florida as forecasters put the panhandle squarely in the path of the destruction.
The latest update from the National Hurricane Center, issued at 2 a.m. ET on Friday, warned that Irma is expected to move "between the north coast of Cuba and the Bahamas during the next day or two" as it leaves Turks and Caicos.
The National Hurricane Center also revised its predictions to show the storm hitting South Florida directly, moving up from the through the middle of the state. It is due to hit early Sunday morning, sooner than previously forecast.
Maximum sustained winds, meanwhile, had dropped slightly to 160 mph.
"Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days," the center warned.
— Amber Jamieson
Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort and swaths of Palm Beach County ordered to evacuate
President Trump's Mar-a-Lago seaside resort in Palm Beach County was evacuated Thursday as forecasts of direct hit by Hurricane Irma into southern Florida in the coming days appeared more likely.
Emergency officials ordered about 125,000 residents in the barrier islands and low-lying areas to leave their homes starting at 10 a.m. Friday. People in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe counties were also ordered to evacuate.
Florida is under a state of emergency, with up to 10 feet of "dangerous, life-threatening" storm surge predicted to envelop several coastal areas, such as the Jupiter Inlet around the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys, the National Weather Service said Thursday night.
The southeastern part of the state and some of the Florida Keys are supposed to get up to 12 inches of rain by Saturday evening.
The Mar-a-Lago has been Trump's go-to spot when he is not in the White House. The president has visited the West Palm Beach club about 25 times since taking office, often hosting meetings with other world leaders, such as Chinese Xi Jinping.
Odds increase that Irma will land in Florida as a "dangerous major hurricane"
Hurricane Irma is expected to remain a powerful category 4 or 5 storm for the next couple of days, the National Weather Service said Thursday afternoon, warning that the odds have increased it will hit southern Florida directly.
"It has become more likely that Irma will make landfall in southern Florida as a dangerous major hurricane, and bring life-threatening storm surge and wind impacts to much of the state," the National Weather Service said in an advisory.
The NWS said it is likely that a "Hurricane Watch" already in effect in South Florida, the Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee, and Florida Bay will be extended further north in the state later on Thursday evening.
"Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion," the federal meteorologists warned.
"Life-threatening inundations" of water are also possible in portions of South Florida and the Florida Keys.
"There is a chance of direct impacts in portions of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, but it is too early to specify the magnitude and location of these impacts," the NWS added.
Currently, the "potentially catastrophic" Category 5 hurricane is surging through the Caribbean between the Hispaniola (the island home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti) and the Turks and Caicos islands.
Cuba has now issued a hurricane warning for multiple provinces, in addition to warnings already in place in parts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the Bahamas.
Officials warn of "life-threatening" winds in Florida
The National Weather Service has warned south Florida residents that Irma could leave locations "uninhabitable for weeks or months."
An advisory released late Thursday morning issued hurricane and storm surge watches for the south Florida area.
Residents are urged to prepare for "life-threatening" winds and storm surges with "possible devastating impacts."
The advisory also warns of "flooding rains, isolated tornadoes, significant beach erosion and surf, coastal flooding, and life-threatening rip currents."
The storm is expected to hit south Florida Saturday morning.
Trump "very concerned" about Irma, but praises Florida's preparations
President Trump said he is "very concerned" by the forecasted arrival of Hurricane Irma on the mainland United States, but said Florida is as prepared as can be for the enormous storm.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office alongside the visiting leader of Kuwait, Trump said Puerto Rico had been spared being directly hit by the storm, but noted the Virgin Islands had been hit "very, very hard."
"We're finding out the kind of damage. It's actually communication — communication is actually difficult," he said.
Trump on Thursday also approved a declaration of a major disaster in the Virgin Islands, ordering federal aid be made available to those on the islands of St. John and St. Thomas. Such assistance could include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, or low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
As the unpredictable storm makes it way towards Florida, Trump praised local officials and FEMA for what he said were extensive preparations.
"Florida is as well prepared as you can be for something like this," he said. "Now it's just a question of, what happens?"
The president also heaped praise on the US Coast Guard for saving what he said were some 14,000 lives after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas last week.
21 photos that show how bad Hurricane Irma really is
Shocking pictures have emerged of the extensive damage Irma has caused in the Caribbean, leaving roofs torn off, trees flattened, and cars upside down.
See them here. —Gabriel H. Sanchez
As Irma flattens the Caribbean, who will pay to rebuild?
Hurricane Irma left a trail of ripped trees, drowned cars, and roofless buildings in the Caribbean islands Wednesday as it raged toward the US coast and Miami.
Experts are concerned about the aftermath of the storm on these islands because the communities are harder to reach from the US mainland, existing infrastructure is precarious, and US federal aid resources may be stretched thin so soon after tropical storm Harvey. In Puerto Rico, the disaster may also worsen dengue, the mosquito-borne infection that peaks in September.
“Whenever you’re dealing with two back-to-back incidents like this, both potentially major consequences, it’s a whole lot harder than dealing with one,” Eric McNulty, a director at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard University, told BuzzFeed News.
Read more about the destruction here.
Aerial photos show the extensive levels of destruction caused by Irma
Images released by the Dutch Defense Ministry have revealed the extent of the damage left in Irma's wake.
The images show the Dutch territory of the southern part of the island of Sint Maarten, also known as Saint Martin. The pictures reveal extensive damage to buildings, as well as the island's port.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said there has been "widespread destruction of infrastructure, houses, and businesses," as well as power and water outages, and flooding.
See more photos of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma here.
UK government to send Navy ships to assist with recovery operations in Caribbean
The UK government has said Hurricane Irma inflicted "severe and in places critical" damage to the British overseas territory of Anguilla.
Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan said on Thursday that the Caribbean island took the full force of the Category 5 hurricane.
He also added that the British Virgin islands suffered "severe damage" but that on Montserrat the damage was "not as severe as first thought."
A British Royal Navy ship carrying marines and army engineers has been sent to the islands. Duncan added there are "unconfirmed reports of a number of fatalities" on the islands.
Miami mayor: "I can't stress it enough. Get off Miami beach."
Phillip Levine, the mayor of Miami Beach, urged all residents and visitors to evacuate Thursday morning on CNN, as Category 5 Hurricane Irma approaches.
"This is a serious storm. I've called it a nuclear hurricane," he said. "I want people to understand this is not something you want to ride through, not something you want to be in your house or apartment for."
Levine said the city was working to make sure seniors, the homeless, and special needs residents are identified and brought safely to shelter. He also stressed that people should bring their pets with them to shelters.
A team of first responders will be operating in Miami beach at reduced staff, he said, but at a certain point they will not be able to go out in the hurricane.
"There will not be public services available," he said. "You will be on your own. It's not a place you want to be. I can't stress it enough. Get off Miami beach."
The mayor warned the potential flooding from the storm could be "catastrophic" and he wants everyone in the area "to be safe, not sorry."
Although construction standards have improved since Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, and the city has increased the number of pumps and generators available, the mayor said, "when it comes to the massive amount of water a storm surge can bring, there's no pumps in the world that can handle that."
For his part, he'll be staying in a hospital, a "hardened location" fortified against the storm, he said, for the duration.
On The Today Show Thursday, Florida Governor Rick Scott said his biggest concern is making sure everyone in the state has enough fuel to evacuate. He asked residents not to take more fuel than they need, as reports on social media from around the state showed long gas lines over the past several days.
-- Cora Lewis
More than one million people in Puerto Rico lost power after Hurricane Irma blew past the island
More than one million people in Puerto Rico lost power Wednesday night as Hurricane Irma battered the island and its fragile electrical grid.
Though the Category 5 storm did not hit Puerto Rico directly — instead passing just north of San Juan — it was expected to cause significant damage across the island. In a late-night advisory, the National Hurricane Center predicted Irma would bring "life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards" to Puerto Rico through the night, and that parts of the island could see as much as 12 inches of rain.
The storm is now expected to move toward the Dominican Republic, before hitting Turks and Caicos and the southern islands of the Bahamas Thursday and Friday.
After that, Irma's path is more difficult to predict, but the National Hurricane Center said advisories would likely go into effect for the entire Florida peninsula, as well as parts of the Florida Keys, Thursday.
In Puerto Rico, scores of residents left their homes for emergency shelters, and at least 50,000 households were without water, as Irma whipped the island with lashing rains and wind.
Pointing to the massive flooding caused by Harvey less than two weeks ago, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló warned late Wednesday that the rising waters could wreck havoc on the island, and urged residents to follow mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying coastal areas.
"Flooding can become the major cause of death in events of this nature,” he said, pointing to the catastrophic water levels seen in Houston less than two weeks ago.
But the most immediate—and likely the most lasting—damage was felt by Puerto Rico's embattled power utility, PREPA. Even before the storm hit, the company reported that 20 percent of customers had lost power, and cautioned that there would be blackouts and outages across the island.
By the time Irma passed, 1,079,465 users—or nearly 68 percent of the utility's customers—had lost service. The company, which is virtually bankrupt, has said that some areas of Puerto Rico could be without power for up to six months.
— Grace Wyler
Hurricane Irma death toll rises to 10
The death toll from Hurricane Irma has risen to at least 10 people overnight.
France's Interior minister said eight people had died and another 23 people had been injured on French Caribbean island territories.
Speaking on French radio France Info Thursday morning, Gerard Collomb said the death toll in Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy could be higher because rescue teams were still working on the islands.
"The reconnaissance will really start at daybreak," Collomb added.
In Anguilla, authorities said at least one person had been reported dead following the storm's passing.
The latest deaths follow on from Wednesday when Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne confirmed a two-year-old child had died while trying to flee the storm on Barbuda.
Department of Homeland Security says it will not conduct immigration enforcement in areas affected by Irma
The Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday that it "will not conduct non-criminal immigration enforcement operations" in areas affected by Hurricane Irma.
"When it comes to rescuing people in the wake of Hurricane Irma, immigration status is not and will not be a factor," the department said in a statement.
The statement added that DHS personnel will be on the ground in Florida to assist with search and rescue operations and "other public safety missions." The agency also is moving immigrant detainees from four southern Florida facilities to other locations outside of Irma's path.
At a press conference Wednesday, state and local officials urged immigrants not to stay away from emergency shelters.
“Everybody who needs shelter in Miami-Dade County is welcome, and you should do so without any fear of any repercussions," Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said.
— Jim Dalrymple II
Mandatory evacuations begin across southern Florida as Hurricane Irma approaches
Officials in multiple Florida counties issued mandatory evacuation orders Wednesday, forcing thousands of residents to flee what Gov. Rick Scott described as a "powerful and deadly" storm.
Hurricane Irma, Scott warned, is bigger and potentially more destructive than Hurricane Andrew, a devastating storm that hit the state in 1992.
"It’s way bigger in size than Andrew," Scott said Wednesday. "There’s nothing in its path to slow it down."
A mandatory evacuation was set to begin Wednesday evening for all residents of the Florida Keys. Visitors were ordered to begin evacuating the Keys at sunrise.
Mandatory evacuations also began Wednesday in Miami-Dade County, where Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered people to leave coastal areas. In addition, he ordered all residents of mobile homes in the county to evacuate.
Earlier Wednesday, officials in Broward County, just north of Miami, also ordered people to leave areas along the coast.
— Jim Dalrymple II
Here's how Hurricane Irma is different than Hurricane Harvey
On a rampage across the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma is aimed right at Florida and South Carolina, according to Wednesday evening's forecast, now packing 185 mile per hour winds and promising storm surges 10 to 20 feet high along the coast.
Now the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane on record, Irma is a Category 5 storm some 500 miles wide, with hurricane-force winds extending 50 miles from its eye.
Unlike Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over Texas last week, delivering an unprecedented 51 inches of rain on the Houston region, Irma promises a different disaster — a storm surge of 10 to 20 feet of water, and wind speeds of severe tornado strength that would cut a 100 mile swath where it makes landfall. Irma is also expected to proceed north at about 15 mph after landfall.
The worst case scenario is that the hurricane continues on its beeline for Miami with its high winds intact, then returns to sea to strengthen and then smack into Georgia and South Carolina, as the NOAA track forecasts.
A week after Hurricane Harvey, “we now have two worst case scenarios,” Paul Walsh, director of weather strategy at IBM Global Business Services told BuzzFeed News. “We spent all last week calling Harvey ‘unprecedented’. Now it’s ‘unprecedented’ times two.”
Read more here.
Three hurricanes are officially active in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico
Tropical storms Jose and Katia were officially upgraded to hurricanes as of Wednesday afternoon, joining Hurricane Irma.
As of 5 p.m. ET, the Category 5-strength Hurricane Irma's eye was moving away from the Virgin Islands and intensifying storm conditions were spreading over Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose was quickly gaining strength and forecast to become a major hurricane by Friday.
In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia was threatening the Mexican state of Veracruz. Rainfall from the hurricane could mean life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, particularly in mountain areas, the National Weather Service said.
People are accusing airlines of raising prices on people trying to evacuate Hurricane Irma
As Hurricane Irma makes landfall in the Caribbean and heads towards the US, parts of Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia are under states of emergency, and mandatory evacuations are in order.
But some who are trying to book flights out of Miami or South Florida claim airlines like Delta, United, and American have dramatically raised their fares in the past 24 hours.
People took to social media to share screenshots of flight search results showing flights out of Miami to various US locations are ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000.
Airlines, however, are disputing the allegations. Read more here.
One person killed and 90% of houses destroyed in Barbuda, prime minister says
At least one person was killed and as many as 1,000 homes were destroyed on the island of Barbuda after Hurricane Irma struck on Wednesday, the prime minister said.
Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, spoke to national broadcaster ABS Television/Radio about the devastation Wednesday evening, saying 90% of the properties he saw on Barbuda had been damaged.
In a phone interview with CNN later, he said that 20% to 30% of those properties were totally demolished, and that the island's airport had been so damaged that the only way in and out was via helicopter.
"It was heart wrenching. Absolutely devastating," he said. "I have never seen any such destruction compared to what I saw in Barbuda this afternoon."
He described the victim who died in the storm as a young child who was fatally wounded as its mother tried to move to safer ground.
Already, the damage estimate to the small island was at least $100 million, Browne added.
Georgia governor declares state of emergency in six counties
Georgia's governor on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in six coastal counties as his state prepares for Hurricane Irma.
The order covers Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Glynn, Liberty, and McIntosh counties.
Gov. Nathan Deal said the declaration would prohibit price gouging and waive "rules and regulations for motor vehicles transporting supplies, equipment, personnel, goods, and services associated with disaster assistance and relief."
"We will continue monitoring Hurricane Irma’s path in the days ahead and coordinating with our federal, state and local partners," he said. "I urge Georgians in the affected counties to remain vigilant and be prepared."
The governors in Florida and South Carolina have also declared states of emergency for their territories.
Florida orange growers are panicking as Hurriance Irma approaches
Farmers in Florida, the United States' main orange juice growing region, are bracing for a potentially catastrophic storm as Hurricane Irma rips through the Caribbean. Florida is about a month and a half away from harvesting its early orange varieties, which account for nearly half of the state's annual production.
The storm threatens to blow the fruit off the trees or, even worse, uproot entire plants. If farmers need to replant, it takes about three to four years for a tree to become productive.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed that it keeps going east and ends up in the Atlantic somewhere," said Andrew Meadows, a spokesperson for Florida Citrus Mutual, a grower trade organization. "Farmers can secure their equipment, and get their crop insurance papers in order. But with a storm of this magnitude, there's not a whole lot you can do."
Read the full story here.
Here's a running list of misinformation about Hurricane Irma
Fake videos and forecasts are already spreading online about Hurricane Irma.
BuzzFeed News will be updating this list of incorrect information and debunking falsehoods.
Here's the live forecast of track and winds for Hurricane Irma:
(All times ET)
Hurricane force winds are 74 mph and above, but Irma's forecasted maximum winds are much more powerful, as this graphic shows.
The cone track reflects the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the predicted route of the hurricane.
Florida governor warns residents to take Irma seriously, as South Carolina declares state of emergency
Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged residents to take Hurricane Irma seriously and prepare for the storm to "devastate" the region.
"I cannot stress this enough: get prepared, know your evacuation zone, listen to your locals," Scott said at a Wednesday morning briefing. "This storm has the potential to devastate our great state and you have to take this seriously."
"Remember, we can rebuild your home; we cannot rebuild your life," he said.
Scott said he had activated 900 members of the Florida National Guard to assist in preparations for the storm. He said approximately 30,000 troops from other states are also ready to assist if needed.
US Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price has sent disaster medical assistance teams to Florida, Scott said.
The governor urged willing Floridians to volunteer in preparation efforts.
"Volunteers makes a huge difference in these emergencies and help with shelter, food distribution, and response efforts," Scott said. "Your efforts could make the difference a family needs to get through this storm."
As Irma continues to batter parts of the Caribbean, South Carolina's governor declared a state of emergency on Wednesday in preparation for the storm.
"I have been advised that Hurricane Irma, and the associated wind, heavy rain, flash flooding, and severe weather, to include tornadoes, may pose a significant threat to the State of South Carolina," Gov. Henry McMaster said in his state of emergency declaration.
Trump on Irma: "It looks like it could be something that will be not good"
As officials continue to warn people in Florida, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere in the Caribbean of the impending danger posed by Hurricane Irma, President Donald Trump told reporters the category-5 storm "seems to be record-breaking hurricane."
"There's a new and seems to be record breaking hurricane heading right toward Florida and Puerto Rico and other places," Trump said at a brief press appearance during an Oval Office meeting with congressional leaders. "We will see what happens. We will know in a short period of time."
"It looks like it could be something that will be not good," he said. "Believe me, not good"
The latest National Hurricane Center advisory has warned Irma is a "potentially catastrophic" hurricane that "will bring life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall to portions of the northern Leeward Islands, including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico today."
The storm has already battered other Caribbean islands, including St. Martin and St. Barts.
Trump owns a seafront mansion in St. Martin, with Trump Organization officials telling the Washington Post they were monitoring the storm's damage there.
The islands of Barbuda, Anguilla, and Saint-Martin have taken a "direct hit" from Hurricane Irma as the damage caused by the storm starts to become clear.
The Caribbean islands of Anguilla and Saint-Martin appear to have taken a direct hit from the "potentially catastrophic" Hurricane Irma after the storm first made landfall in Barbuda, NASA said Wednesday morning.
The National Hurricane Center confirmed the eye of the storm had passed over Saint-Martin.
An statement issued by France's Préfecture de Guadeloupe — of which the island of St. Barts and the northern part of the island of Saint-Martin are a part — detailed widespread damage on Wednesday morning.
There are power outages on both islands, and St. Barts' power station is out of service. Saint-Martin's fire station is damaged, while St. Barts' is under a meter of water and fire trucks are unusable. The main prefecture building in Saint-Martin has been partly destroyed, and the roofs have been taken off a number of buildings.
The statement said it was unable to give an update on the number of victims at this stage. French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said he was monitoring the situation hour-by-hour, and there had been "maximum mobilization" by the state.
As of 8 a.m. ET, the storm still had maximum sustained winds of 185 mph.
Webcams on the island of Saint-Martin, including one on the island's Maho Beach — famed for its proximity to the island's airport — were destroyed, but yielded footage of the full force of the winds unleashed by Irma.
Footage has also emerged of heavy flooding in St. Barts.
In an early morning message issued at 5 a.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said that the storm "will birng life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards to portions of the northern Leeward Islands, including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico" later today.
— Francis Whittaker
Trump tweets that his administration is watching Hurricane Irma "closely"
— Francis Whittaker
The sheer strength of the Hurricane Irma has been captured from space by NASA's satellites.
The agency released stunning images of the storm via its social media accounts on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
NASA's SPoRT project — or Short-term Prediction Research And Transition Center, which helps the weather forecasting community use NASA observations and research to improve their short-term predictions — released satellite footage of the sun casting a shadow on the eye of the storm on Tuesday evening.
SPoRT said the Category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 185 mph as the eye approached landfall in Barbuda on Wednesday morning.
The agency also released video of the storm taken from the International Space Station.
Hurricane Irma makes landfall in the Caribbean, battering Barbuda as it moves west
Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Caribbean early Wednesday morning, swallowing the island of Barbuda as it became one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the Atlantic.
The eye of the Category 5 storm passed directly over the island, with maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm is "potentially catastrophic," the NHC said, warning that "preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion."
The storm is now making its way toward Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, leaving storm surges of up to 8 feet on the southern side of Barbuda. Residents of the small island—which has a population of about 2,000—have been warned not to go outside, although the storm has now passed.
Irma is expected to pass over Anguilla and St Kitts & Nevis Wednesday morning, before hitting Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and other islands later Wednesday. Forecasters have predicted it will eventually make landfall in Florida over the weekend, although it is not yet clear what path the hurricane will have taken by the time it reaches the peninsula.
Authorities across the Caribbean scrambled Tuesday to brace the islands for the so-called "superstorm," shutting off power and evacuating residents and tourists inland. Officials in the Bahamas have ordered a mandatory evacuation for the country's southern islands, according to the Associated Press.
Though few details have emerged about the impact of the storm on Barbuda, the effects are expected to be devastating. Already, the Antigua Chronicle is reporting that several homes lost their roofs in the powerful winds.
Trump declares states of emergency for Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands as Irma nears
President Donald Trump approved multiple emergency declarations Tuesday as Hurricane Irma bore down on the Caribbean, as officials across the region prepared for the pending disaster.
By Tuesday evening, the Category 5 storm was located about 130 miles east of Antigua, an island at the rim of the Caribbean and one of the first land masses in the storm's path, with maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour.
The hurricane is expected to reach Puerto Rico by Wednesday, and could hit Cuba on Friday and Florida by the weekend.
Both Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Florida Gov. Rick Scott have declared states of emergency, and with the storm inching nearer Tuesday, Trump also approved emergency declarations for the territory and state, as well as the US Virgin Islands.
The declarations aim to "help alleviate the hardship and suffering that the emergency may inflict on the local population," and give the affected areas access to federal relief funding, according to White House statements.
In a news conference Tuesday evening, Scott outlined his state's preparations, including plans to close schools and government buildings. Supplies are being staged in Orlando and will be distributed to impacted areas, he said.
The governor also announced that he has activated a small number of Florida National Guard members to support the state's planning and logistics efforts, and said that all 7,000 guard troops in the state will report for duty Friday morning.
In Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for tourists that is set to begin at sunrise on Wednesday. An evacuation order for residents is also expected, the county said in a statement.
“If ever there was a storm to take seriously in the Keys, this is it,” Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt said. “The sooner people leave, the better.”
In Miami-Dade County, voluntary evacuations could begin Wednesday evening, the Associated Press reported.
In some parts of the state, images have already emerged showing empty grocery store shelves and long lines at gas stations as Floridians stocked up before Irma's arrival.
During his press conference, Scott advised people to heed future evacuation orders, and noted that Irma's impact could be severe.
"This storm has the potential to devastate this state," he said.
In Puerto Rico, Rosselló described Irma as "much more dangerous than Harvey," and said the "results could be catastrophic and devastating," the AP reported.
Further south in the Caribbean, flights were canceled and airports closed. In the Leeward Islands — which include Antigua as well as Saint Martin, Barbuda, and others — images Tuesday already showed intense wind as Irma approached.
— Jim Dalrymple II
Airlines begin to cancel and delay flights to airports in Irma's path
Dozens of flights heading toward south Florida and the Caribbean have been cancelled or delayed as Hurricane Irma barrels towards the region with winds up to 175 mph.
As of Tuesday evening, 35 flights had been cancelled and 11 flights delayed coming into Puerto Rico's San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín Airport, according to the flight tracking data company FlightAware.com. Four flights were also cancelled and 41 flights delayed traveling to Miami International Airport Tuesday.
Read more here.
Here's what you need to know about Irma right now:
Hurricane Irma grew into a Category 5 storm on Tuesday. According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, and a hurricane warning was in effect early Tuesday morning for Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and a number of other islands at the eastern edge of the Caribbean including Antigua, Barbuda, and Montserrat.
"Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a powerful Category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days," the hurricane centre said.
"Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion."
Read the full report here.
—Jim Dalrymple II