(CNN)Hurricane Irma — one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic — hammered Puerto Rico on Wednesday night after smashing a string of little northern Caribbean islands where at least three people were killed.
CNN’s Leyla Santiago, in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan, said that there were 900,000 customers without power as strong winds lashed the island. Officials told her there were several rescues due to flood but there were no immediate reports of injuries in the US territory of about 3.4 million people.
Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told CNN he thinks the island was being hit hard even though the eye of the storm stayed off shore.
“From the center of operations that we have over here in San Juan, there is pretty significant damage already done,” he said, citing wind gusts of over 100 mph.
The outer bands of the storm continued to whip heavy rain upon the island late Wednesday.
Tourist Steban Guajardo told CNN that water in the parking lot of a building that he was at in the seaside area of Condado just kept rising.
Puerto Ricans bracing for the high-octane winds and slashing rainfall started to feel Irma’s effects Wednesday afternoon. Strong breezes shook downpours and rooftops battered on the coast.
Residents prepped their houses for security and gathered food, supplies and possessions.
— At least two people died and two others were seriously injured from the islands of St. Barts and St. Martin, French Overseas Affairs Minister Annick Girardin said. A baby died in Barbuda, where as many as 95 percent of structures were damaged, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360˚.”
— Irma has maintained intensity over 180 mph longer than any storm in Atlantic basin history.
— Late Wednesday night, Irma’s core was turning about 85 miles northwest of San Juan, with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph.
— Meanwhile, Jose, in the open Atlantic far to the southeast of Irma, became a hurricane. Katia, in the Gulf of Mexico, also became a hurricane.
— In the US Virgin Islands, Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp ordered a 36-hour curfew.
— On Thursday the storm will move very near or over the Turks and Caicos, with catastrophic damage likely. The storm will pass north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, bringing hurricane force winds to sections of the island, with flooding and mudslides probable.
— It’s too early to tell whether it is going to make landfall on the US mainland. Computer models show it could churn near Florida’s east coast by late Sunday, and forecasters warn the heart could hit the Florida peninsula.
— Floridians should heed any evacuation order, Gov. Rick Scott said. ” (A) storm surge could cover your house. We can rebuild homes — we cannot rebuild your family,” he said.
Widespread damage on Barbuda
Irma’s core slammed the tiny island of Barbuda before moving over St. Martin and Anguilla and parts of the British Virgin Islands. Its maximum sustained winds of 185 mph were over the 157 mph threshold of a Category 5 storm.
Browne told CNN the damage was “heart-wrenching. Absolutely devastating.” He estimated that the damage on Barbuda, where he says 1,800 people live, to be at least $100 million.
The telecommunications system in Barbuda was wiped out and cell towers were knocked over, ” he said. Both the island’s resorts were demolished, he added.
There is also no way to land airplanes on the islands, Browne said from Antigua, whose 80,000 people comprise the majority of the two-island nation’s population.
On Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands, Kennedy Banda said ferocious winds blew out the windows of his home. He and his family were taking shelter in a toilet; he said he braced his body against the door in an attempt to keep it closed.
“Everything is blown out,” he told CNN by phone near Road Town. “Everything is gone.”
Earlier, he published video on Facebook showing wind and pounding rain whipping the coastline as Irma’s core approached.
Reports suggested damage on parts of the smaller islands, a tropical region popular with tourists.
Roughly 10 of these smaller islands — such as St. Martin, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis — were pounded by hurricane conditions. One, Guadeloupe, has about 405,000 inhabitants. The rest have about 264,400 individuals combined.
‘It was hell’
Stacy-Ann Taylor, whose husband works in a hotel in St. Maarten, stayed there during the storm with their two kids. As did a bunch of other hotel guests, after the storm winds started blowing in the middle of the night, they moved into the hallway.
About five or 10 minutes later she heard the loud sound of glass smashing in the room.
“Then we could feel a lot of pressure to the ears (like an airplane was taking off or landing) and the sound from the wind sounded like I was in a haunted house,” she said.
“It was hell last night,” she said.
Irma affected many northern Caribbean islands, even those not touched by the powerful core. In Marigot, Guadeloupe, Florida resident Loren Ann Mayo rode out the storm on the floor of a beachside hotel.
“We’ve been hiding in the bathroom,” she said in a movie she posted to Facebook. About an inch of water covered parts of the ground, and pieces of drywall had dropped on a balcony and a bed inside, she said.
Mayo was there on a business trip. “It is pouring down rain. It is howling,” she told CNN. “Most people are either in their bathroom, or they’ve been moved downstairs to the third floor where management thinks is a very, very safe spot.”
Storm surge is a concern for the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Central Bahamas (around 20 ft), as is heavy rain (up to 20 inches from the Virgin Islands, and up to 20 in parts of Puerto Rico).
The Bahamas prepare
Katherine Pina said four stores she visited in Fort Lauderdale were out of bottled water. She said she saw one man.
“People are doing an opportunity to get some money, I guess,” she said.
Workers at five gas stations in Miami Beach told CNN by phone Wednesday that all were out of fuel. One said the channel expected to get more Wednesday night; another said a resupply was coming Thursday morning.
Some South Florida communities ordered evacuations. Monroe County, including the Florida Keys, ordered people out Wednesday.
In Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale and other cities north of Miami, a mandatory evacuation will go into effect at noon Thursday for areas east of Federal Highway, Mayor Barbara Sharief said. The evacuation zone includes low-lying areas.
Miami-Dade County ordered people out of mobile homes, barrier islands and other parts of the Region.
Are you affected by Irma? Text, iMessage or WhatsApp photos, your videos and stories to CNN: +1 347-322-0415.
¿Te ha afectado Irma? Envía tus fotos, vídeos e historias a CNN por texto, iMessage y WhatsApp: +1 347-322-0415.
Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/