Hurricane Irma: Destruction and devastation in Caribbean as Florida prepares for evacuation
- Most powerful Atlantic hurricane leaves at least nine dead
- Hurricanes Jose and Katia are also forecast to cause destruction in the region
- Donald Trump has said the winds of Irma are "the strongest I've ever seen"
- Path takes the storm towards Bahamas this evening as residents of Florida and Georgia are told to evacuate
- Caribbean island of Barbuda 'rubble' after 'total devastation'
- Four dead in St Martin
Hurricane Irma is continuing to tear a deadly path through the Caribbean, causing widespread destruction and reducing buildings to rubble, on a track that could lead to a catastrophic strike on Florida.
The American state is bracing for the arrival of the Atlantic's most deadly storm in history, which has already left at least 9 people - and as many as 13 - dead, with thousands homeless. Emergency chiefs warn it will have a "truly devastating" impact on the US.
The French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has said four people are confirmed dead and approximately 50 injured on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin. However the death toll was lower than one given earlier Thursday by France's interior minister Gerard Collomb, who said eight people had been killed on French Caribbean territories.
Philippe said four bodies have been found on Saint Martin, a part-French, part-Dutch island and are being identified. The Dutch authorities have not reported any casualties thus far.
The prime minister added that one person faces life-threatening injuries and two others were in serious condition.
The United Nations estimates that up to 37 million people could be affected by the category five hurricane, which is forecast to hit the south-eastern Bahamas by Thursday evening and near the Central Bahamas by Friday.
Florida is braced for a possible direct hit from as early as Friday night, with forecasters predicting it could strike the entire Atlantic coast and rage into South Carolina and Georgia, where a mandatory evacuation has been ordered.
On the small island of Barbuda, the category five hurricane destroyed nearly all buildings and left it "barely habitable" after striking in the early hours of Wednesday.
Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Barbuda, said the island is "literally rubble" amid scenes of "total carnage". He added: "The entire housing stock was damaged. It is just total devastation."
Officials warned that the island of Saint-Martin is "almost destroyed". The death toll is expected to rise on both islands.
A British mother told of her fears for her two daughters - a pregnant hotel worker and an ex-beauty queen - who are missing on Barbuda and have not been heard from since Irma struck. Their aunt has called on Richard Branson to help find their family, saying "The silence is unbearable."
Irma blacked out much of Puerto Rico early on Thursday, covering the US territory with heavy wind and rain as it headed towards the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Meanwhile, two other storms have strengthened to become hurricanes. It is feared Hurricane Jose will bring winds of up to 129mph and is expected to follow a similar path when it arrives over the weekend.
While the Caribbean faces the possibility of being affected by a second major hurricane, Mexico is braced for the arrival of Hurricane Katia on Friday evening.
Hurricane Jose has strengthened to a Category Three storm, as it follows in the path of Hurricane Irma, US weather forecasters said.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm, located east of the Lesser Antilles, was packing winds of 120 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour), as it moved northwest at nearly 18 miles per hour (30 kilometers per hour).
"Some additional strengthening is possible during the next 24 to 36 hours," the NHC said.