Record-Breaking Hurricane Irma Makes Landfall, Slams Caribbean Islands

The eye of Hurricane Irma, the "potentially catastrophic" Category 5 storm raging in the Atlantic, is passing over St. Martin, with the powerful northern eyewall pounding Anguilla in the eastern Caribbean, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

The storm passed over the Caribbean Islands of Antigua and Barbuda in the wee hours of the morning and is still packing maximum sustained winds of 185 mph (295 km/h), according to the NHC.

No casualties have been reported on the Caribbean Islands, though the Associated Press reported "heavy rain and howling winds that sent debris flying as people huddled in their homes or government shelters" in Barbuda this morning. The storm ripped the roof off the Barbuda police station, the AP reported. [Hurricane Irma: Everything You Need to Know About the Monster Storm]

As of 8 a.m. ET, Irma was located about 15 miles (25 kilometers) west of St. Martin and about 15 miles west-southwest of Anguilla. The storm is moving toward the west-northwest at nearly 16 mph (26 km/h), a motion that is expected to continue for the next couple of days, according to the NHC. The "extremely dangerous core" of Irma is forecast to move over parts of the northern Virgin Islands today, before passing near or just north of Puerto Rico this afternoon or tonight and then near or just north of the coast of the Dominican Republic on Thursday (Sept. 7), the NHC reported.

Visitors to the Florida Keys are under a mandatory evacuation scheduled to begin this morning (Sept. 6), while residents are required to leave later in the day, according to USA Today.

President Donald Trump has approved a state of emergency for Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, which makes resources and other federal aid available.

Irma is currently the strongest storm on record to ever form in the Atlantic Ocean, not including the Caribbean basin or the Gulf of Mexico, according to the NHC. Only four other hurricanes have reached wind speeds of 185 mph: Hurricane Wilma (2005); Gilbert (1988); Allen (1980); and an unnamed 1935 storm that hit the Florida Keys.

The combination of life-threatening storm surge and breaking waves will raise water levels several feet above normal tide levels in some areas, according to the NHC. In the Northern Leeward Islands, the water is forecast to rise up to 7 to 11 feet (2.1 to 3.4 meters) above normal, while Turks and Caicos as well as the Southeastern Bahamas could see levels reaching 15 to 20 feet (4.6 to 6 m) above normal. The NHC forecasts water levels will increase 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 m) above normal along the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and 1 to 3 feet (up to nearly 1 m) along the northern coast of Haiti and the Gulf of Gonave.

Originally published on Live Science.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.