She struck during the night, trailing devastation in her wake: Hurricane Irma, the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, showed no mercy to the leeward islands as she barrelled through the Antilles.
Officials from the French-controlled half of St Martin say the island has been 95% destroyed. Buildings were torn apart, trees uprooted, fire stations flooded and electricity cut. Four government buildings, reputed to be the sturdiest on the island, were completely gutted, and a hospital roof blown off by winds of up to 300 kilometres per hour.
Nearby, the small island of Barbuda is reported to be barely habitable, with St Barts and Anguilla also sustaining unprecedented levels of damage.
Aid operation scrambled
A rescue operation is being scrambled from across the globe. In France, soldiers and fireman had been preparing in advance for the emergency and were despatched yesterday to Guadeloupe. A British naval ship is in the area to provide assistance. Aid agencies are sending supplies and medical support. But with at least one airport put out of action by the storm, some victims may prove difficult to reach.
Irma’s path continues
After crashing through the leewards, Irma rampaged northwestwards to Puerto Rico, where 3 million inhabitants were left without power. She’s headed for the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and the southern Bahamas, and is expected to hit Florida on Sunday afternoon, although she has been downgraded from a category 5 to a category 4 hurricane.
On St Martin residents have been told they can emerge from their shelters, but those who ventured out faced a scene of complete confusion.
In the streets, debris, and in the port, smashed yaughts are all that remains of the luxury tourist trade underpinning the economies of these islands.