Hurricane Irma one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in a century smashed through a string of Caribbean islands killing at least 14 people en route to Florida.
Late on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center issued the first hurricane warning for the Keys and parts of South Florida, including some of the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people. It added a storm surge warning and extended watch areas along the east and west coasts.
According to reports, this is the first time that the Territory has withnessed the a Category 5 storm. Irma was about 55 miles (85 km) south of Great Inagua Island and is expected to bring 20-foot (6-m) storm surges to the Bahamas, before moving to Cuba and plowing into southern Florida as a very powerful Category 4 on Sunday, with storm surges and flooding due to begin within the next 48 hours.
"We are expecting inundation from both rainfall as well as storm surge. And we may not be able to come rescue them in a timely manner," said Virginia Clerveaux, director of Disaster Management and Emergencies in comments broadcast on Facebook.
The few tourists who remained on the Turks and Caicos islands were in hotels, as were some locals.
"Right now I'm at the hotel with my family. There are a lot of people in the hotel. It's boarded up," said island resident Sofia Simmons, speaking from the Royal West Indies Hotel on Providenciales island. "Most of our shelters are packed to capacity. We had to open more shelters."
“The amount of wind that’s coming in, we don’t think we’ve seen anything quite like this,” U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday after declaring a major disaster in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Florida emergency management officials began evacuationsn have ordered tourists to leave the Keys. Gas shortages in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area worsened on Thursday, with sales up to five times the norm.
“It is an enormous disaster. Ninety-five percent of the island is destroyed. I am in shock,” Daniel Gibbs, chairman of a local council on Saint Martin, told Radio Caribbean International.