According to Associated Press reports the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane Irma made its first landfall churning along a path pointing to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.
The hurricane came with heavy rain and gusty winds that raked the neighbouring island of Antigua, sending the debris flying as people huddled in their homes and government shelters.
Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma's “onslaught” in a statement that closed with: “May God protect us all.”
In Barbuda, the storm ripped off the roof of the island's police station forcing officers to seek refuge in the nearby fire station and at the community centre that served as an official shelter.
The Category 5 storm also knocked out communication between islands. Midcie Francis of the National Office of Disaster Services confirmed there was damage to several homes, but said it was too early to do tally or assess the extent of the damage.
The storm had maximum sustained winds of 185 mph (295 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Centre. The most dangerous winds, usually nearest to the eye, were forecast to pass near the northern Virgin Islands and near or just north of Puerto Rico through the day Wednesday.
"I hear it's a Cat 5 now and I'm terrified," Antigua resident Carol Joseph said Tuesday as she finished her last trip to the supermarket before seeking shelter. "I had to come back for more batteries because I don't know how long the current will be off."
On the 108-square-mile island, people who live in low-lying areas were staying with friends and relatives on higher ground or sleeping in churches, schools and community facilities built to withstand hurricanes. None of the shelters have yet been tested by Category 5 winds, however.
Many homes in Antigua and Barbuda are not built on concrete foundations or have poorly constructed wooden roofs that are susceptible to wind damage. Other islands in the path of the storm included the Virgin Islands and Anguilla, a small, low-lying territory of about 15,000 people.
President Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and authorities in the Bahamas said they would evacuate six southern islands.