Hurricane Irma has hit the Turks and Caicos Islands as the category 5 storm, which has killed at least 18 people, continues to move across the Caribbean towards Florida.
Waves as high as 6 metres (20ft) were expected on Friday in the Turks and Caicos, where communications went down as the storm hit the islands, leaving the extent of the devastation unclear.
Category five superstorm hits Turks and Caicos Islands, with at least 18 people confirmed dead across Caribbean
The first hurricane warnings were issued for parts of southern Florida as the US state braced for Irma, while some of those islands hit hardest by the storm prepared for Hurricane Jose, a category 3 storm following in Irma’s wake with 120mph (195km/h) winds.
French, British and Dutch military authorities sent aid to devastated Caribbean islands where at least 18 people were dead and thousands left homeless. Warships and planes were sent with food, water and troops after the hurricane smashed homes, schools and roads, laying waste to some of the world’s most beautiful tourist destinations.
Nine people have died, seven are missing and 112 injured on the French islands of St Martin and St Barts, the French interior minister, Gérard Collomb, said.
Homes on St Martin were splintered and road signs scattered by the strong winds, while cafes and shops in the seaside town of Marigot were submerged in flood water. Rescue teams had yet to cover the entire area of damage, meaning the death toll could rise.
Britain was sending hundreds of troops and the Royal Navy flagship HMS Ocean to Anguilla, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands.
In Anguilla, officials reported extensive damage to the airport, hospitals, shelters and schools and said 90% of roads were impassable.
On Barbuda, nearly every building was damaged when the hurricane’s core crossed almost directly over the island early on Wednesday. About 60% of its roughly 1,400 residents were left homeless, said the Antigua and Barbuda prime minister, Gaston Browne.
Roads and telecommunications systems were wrecked and recovery would take months, if not years, he said. “It is just really a horrendous situation.”