Packing winds clocked at 180mph and a deadly storm surge, Hurricane Irma caused widespread damage and death throughout the Caribbean, as the powerful Category 5 storm targets Florida next.

Initial reports surfacing overnight via the international news media cited ten fatalities with ongoing reports of more deaths and injuries early this morning. The death toll has since risen to 13 and counting.

The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne told ABS TV/Radio Antigua said: “Barbuda right now is literally a rubble. The entire housing stock was damaged. It is just a total devastation.”

The small island’s leader said the one fatality reported and confirmed this morning was an infant. And residents currently have no water or phone service in Barbuda, in the midst of widespread damage in other Caribbean regions.

The Weather Channel and others have listed the powerful Category 5 hurricane as the strongest hurricane ever, packing devastating winds and rain.

Graphics Courtesy of US National Weather Service

As of this morning, Irma was heading for the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas with hurricane warnings in effect for areas of the Greater Antilles as well, in addition to the Dominican Republic and Haiti with tropical storm force winds expected to hit Cuba on Friday.

On its present course, she is forecast to begin to turn north by this weekend. Where that turn occurs will determine what she may bring to the US eastern seaboard next week.

Forecasters say it’s still too early to pin down the exact path Irma will take once it makes landfall in South Florida on Sunday. 

According to the US National Weather Service, “the strength and expansiveness of the Bermuda-Azores high over the Atlantic Ocean and the timing, depth and location of a southward dip in the jet stream near the eastern US will dictate where and when that northward turn occurs”.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said once the hurricane approaches South Florida early Sunday morning, weather conditions will already be “going downhill” on Saturday and “worsening for southwest Florida on Sunday”.

Hurricane watches are due to be posted for “portions of the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula” later today. The NHC projections said: “Early next week, the possibilities range from the center of Irma being located a couple of hundred miles east of the Florida or Georgia coastline to being in western Georgia.

“In addition, Irma’s wind field will be large, therefore, dangerous surf and coastal flooding will likely exist throughout the southeastern US coastline even well away from Irma’s center by late week.”