ST. JOHN’S, Antigua (AP) – The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history has made its first landfall in the islands of the northeast Caribbean.
The National Weather Service said the eye of Hurricane Irma passed over Barbuda around 1:47 a.m. Residents said over local radio that phone lines went down as the eye passed.
The National Hurricane Center said Irma was maintaining Category 5 strength with sustained winds near 185 mph (295 kph) and heading west-northwest on a path toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.
French authorities have ordered inhabitants to remain confined to their house and not go out under any circumstances in the French Caribbean islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy because of Hurricane Irma.
— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) September 5, 2017
The French ministry of Interior has issued the highest possible alert for both islands of French overseas because they appear to be in the middle of the path of the dangerous Category 5 storm.
Schools, public services and ports have been closed.
Authorities recommend the population stay in the safest room of the house and get prepared for power cuts and disruption in the supply of water.
Two other French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique have been placed under a more moderate alert.
Officials in the island chain south of the Florida mainland are expected to announce evacuations as Hurricane Irma moves west through the Caribbean toward the state.
— NOAAHurricaneHunters (@NOAA_HurrHunter) September 5, 2017
Officials in the Florida Keys say they expect to announce a mandatory evacuation for visitors starting Wednesday and for residents starting Thursday.
The Category 5 hurricane is expected to reach Florida by the weekend. On Wednesday morning, it was about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Antigua.
People in South Florida raided store shelves, buying up water and other hurricane supplies. Long lines formed at gas stations and people pulled shutters out of storage and put up plywood to protect their homes and businesses.
President Donald Trump says his administration is closely watching Hurricane Irma.
On Twitter Wednesday, Trump says his “team, which has done, and is doing, such a good job in Texas, is already in Florida.” He adds: “No rest for the weary!”
— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) September 6, 2017
In a subsequent statement on Twitter, Trump says “Hurricane looks like largest ever recorded in the Atlantic!”
Trump has declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Meanwhile, a new tropical storm has formed in the Gulf of Mexico.
Tropical Storm Katia formed early Wednesday off the coast of Mexico.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Katia’s maximum sustained winds are near 40 mph (65 kph) with some strengthening forecast over the next two days. But, the hurricane center says Katia is expected to stay offshore through Friday morning.
The storm is centered about 105 miles (165 kilometers) east of Tampico, Mexico, and is moving east-southeast near 2 mph (4 kph).