PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos (Reuters) – Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, drove toward Florida on Friday after lashing the Caribbean with devastating winds and torrential rain, killing 19 people and leaving a swathe of catastrophic destruction.
Irma was about 450 miles (724 km) southeast of Miami, Florida, early Friday after saturating the northern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and pummeling the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The “extremely dangerous” hurricane was downgraded from a Category 5 to a Category 4 early Friday but still packed winds as strong as 150 miles per hour (240 km per hour), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an advisory at 8 a.m EDT (noon GMT).
Irma hit the Bahamas on Friday, where it was forecast to bring 20-foot (six-meter) storm surges before moving to Cuba and then slamming into southern Florida on Sunday.
In Miami, hundreds lined up for bottled water and cars looped around city blocks to buy gas on Thursday. Shortages in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area worsened on Thursday, with sales up to five times the norm.
In Palm Beach, the waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate owned by U.S. President Donald Trump was ordered evacuated, media reported. Trump also owns property on the French side of St. Martin, an island devastated by the storm.
A mandatory evacuation on Georgia’s Atlantic coast was due to begin on Saturday, Governor Nathan Deal said. The storm comes two weeks after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas, claiming around 60 lives and causing property damage estimated at as much as $180 billion in Texas and Louisiana.
Irma ravaged a series of small islands in the northeast Caribbean, including Barbuda, St. Martin and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, flattening homes and hospitals and ripping down trees.
A Reuters witness described the roof and walls of a solidly built house shaking hard as the storm rocked the island of Providenciales and caused a drop in pressure that could be felt in people’s chests.
Throughout the islands in Irma’s wake, stunned locals tried to comprehend the devastation as they were getting ready for another major hurricane, Jose, a Category 3 due to reach the northeastern Caribbean on Saturday.