Irma was heading between Cuba and the Turks & Caicos Islands on Friday morning and moving towards The Bahamas. It will reach Florida at the weekend, where official hurricane and storm surge warnings were issued at UK breakfast time on Friday.
The warning predicts storm surges in the low-lying Turks & Caicos of 15-20 feet and rainfall of eight to 12 inches, with the Bahamas under the same threat.
Communications in the Caribbean islands already devastated by Irma are slowly being re-established. The Caribbean Tourism Organisation said that the full extent of damage to the British Virgin Islands was still being determined, but that the area “took a direct hit”. St Barth’s has “flooding throughout”, while St Maarten and its airport are badly damaged, with four deaths confirmed. It added that a million people in Puerto Rico were without power.
However, the islands of St Kitts and Nevis largely escaped damage and Antigua’s airport has now reopened. Antigua was largely unscathed, but neighbouring Barbuda has been devastated.
Southern Florida is under evacuation following a report from the US National Hurricane Centre, which says maximum sustained winds are now near 160 mph (260 km/h) with higher gusts. It adds: “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.”
A Hurricane Warning is in force south of Palm Beach and Bonita Beach. Parts of Haiti are also under Hurricane Warning, as well as areas of the Dominican Republic, South-eastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
In Cuba, the provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, and Villa Clara carry the warning, as does Central and north western Bahamas. Other areas of Florida and Cuba are under the lesser category of Hurricane Watch or under a Tropical Storm Warning. Hurricane Watch means that hurricane conditions are expected ‘somewhere’ in the area and preparations must be made.
British Airways flights to Punta Cana, Bermuda, Barbados, Antigua, Tampa and Orlando are operating as normal. Flights to Fort Lauderdale, Miami Nassau/Grand Cayman and the Turks & Caicos are subject to cancellation and changes. Details are on ba.com.