SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CBSNewYork/AP) — Hurricane Irma cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least 10 dead and thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees on a track Thursday that could lead to a catastrophic strike on Florida.
The most potent Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever, Irma weakened only slightly Thursday morning and remained a powerful Category 5 storm with winds of 180 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
The storm was increasingly likely to rip into heavily populated South Florida early Sunday, prompting the governor to declare an emergency and officials to impose mandatory evacuation orders for parts of the Miami metro area and the Florida Keys. Forecasters said it could punish the entire Atlantic coast of Florida and rage on into Georgia and South Carolina.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told France Info radio that eight had died and 23 injured in the country’s Caribbean island territories, and he said the toll on Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy could be higher because rescue teams have yet to finish their inspection of the islands.
In the United Kingdom, the government said Irma inflicted “severe and in places critical” damage to the British overseas territory of Anguilla. Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan said the Caribbean island took the full force of the hurricane. He told lawmakers on Thursday that the British Virgin islands have also suffered “severe damage.”
Irma blacked out much of Puerto Rico, raking the U.S. territory with heavy wind and rain while staying just out to sea, and it headed early Thursday toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti. More than 1 million people in Puerto Rico were without power late Thursday, CBS News’ Kenneth Craig reported.
To the east, authorities struggled to get aid to small Caribbean islands devastated by the storm’s record 185 mph winds earlier Wednesday, while people in Florida rushed to get ready for a possible direct hit on the Miami area.
Communications were difficult with areas hit by Irma, and information on damage trickled out.
On St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, neighborhoods are underwater.
Barbuda, where the hurricane’s core crossed almost directly over the island early Wednesday, took a major hit. Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne nearly every building was damaged by the storm.
“What I saw was heart wrenching,” he said. “I mean, absolutely devastating.”
He said roads and telecommunications systems were wrecked and recovery would take months, if not years. Browne also told the Associated Pres that a 2-year-old child was killed as a family tried to escape a damaged home during the storm.
One death also was reported in the nearby island of Anguilla, where officials reported extensive damage to the airport, hospitals, shelters and school and said 90 percent of roads are impassible, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.
Significant damage was also reported on St. Martin, or St. Maarten, an island split between French and Dutch control. Photos and video circulating on social media showed major damage to the airport in Philipsburg and the coastal village of Marigot heavily flooded.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Thursday the storm “caused widescale destruction of infrastructure, houses and businesses.”
“There is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Houses are under water, cars are floating through the streets, inhabitants are sitting in the dark, in ruined houses and are cut off from the outside world,” he said.
The Dutch military will need to fly in relief supplies.
By Thursday morning, the center of the storm was about 110 miles north of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and was moving west-northwest near 17 mph.
President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies to remove debris and give other services that will largely be paid for by the U.S. government.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center predicted Irma would remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as passes just to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, nears the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night and skirts Cuba on Friday night into Saturday. It will then likely head north toward Florida.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)