• Hurricane Irma started hammering Puerto Rico with 185mph winds and heavy rain late Wednesday
  • The category 5 storm reduced the islands of Barbuda and St Martin to rubble with deadly destruction
  • Roughly 95 percent of homes and properties were destroyed on both Caribbean islands
  • At least six people died on the French part of St Martin, while a two-year-old child died in Barbuda
  • Irma blacked out much of Puerto Rico and left at least 50,000 people without water
  • Irma was following a projected path that would see it hit the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday
  • The hurricane is expected to continue past eastern Cuba before veering north for Florida at the weekend
  • The Red Cross said it is preparing for 'a major humanitarian response' after the worrying forecasts
  • Mandatory evacuations were ordered in the Florida Keys and parts of Miami on Wednesday

Hurricane Irma has hammered Puerto Rico with 185mph winds after reducing the tiny tropical islands of Barbuda and St Martin to rubble and claiming at least seven lives.

The category 5 storm - the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic - left a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean when it struck on Wednesday on a potential collision course with south Florida. 

Barbuda and St Martin suffered the storm's full fury with roughly 95 percent of properties damaged on both islands.

Officials said at least six people died on the French part of St Martin - a pristine resort known for its vibrant nightlife.  

'It's an enormous catastrophe. Ninety-five percent of the island is destroyed,' top local official Daniel Gibbs said. 'I'm in shock. It's frightening.'

The island, which is divided between the Netherlands and France, was left without drinking water or electricity, and the death toll is expected to rise.

Barbuda, part of the twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, also suffered 'absolute devastation' with more than 90 per cent of dwellings completely destroyed and one child killed. 

Hurricane Irma destroyed 90 percent of the tiny island of Barbuda (above) when it made landfall early on Wednesday. The Caribbean island was reduced to rubble, according to its Prime Minister Gaston Browne

Hurricane Irma destroyed 90 percent of the tiny island of Barbuda (above) when it made landfall early on Wednesday. The Caribbean island was reduced to rubble, according to its Prime Minister Gaston Browne

St Martin also suffered the storm's full fury (above) with roughly 95 percent of properties damaged. At least six people died on the French part of St Martin - a pristine resort known for its vibrant nightlife

St Martin also suffered the storm's full fury (above) with roughly 95 percent of properties damaged. At least six people died on the French part of St Martin - a pristine resort known for its vibrant nightlife

Irma passed to the north of Puerto Rico late on Wednesday night lashing it with heavy rain and powerful winds. Rescue crews are pictured above investigating a flooded car in Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Irma passed to the north of Puerto Rico late on Wednesday night lashing it with heavy rain and powerful winds. Rescue crews are pictured above investigating a flooded car in Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Hurricane Irma started hammering Puerto Rico with 185mph winds late on Wednesday as it followed a projected path that would see it hit the northern edges of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday

Hurricane Irma started hammering Puerto Rico with 185mph winds late on Wednesday as it followed a projected path that would see it hit the northern edges of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday

'It is just a total devastation. Barbuda is literally rubble,' Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told ABS TV Radio in Antigua.

He added that the island, which is home to 1,800 people, was left 'barely habitable'. 

'The entire housing stock was damaged... Some have lost whole roofs. Some properties have been totally demolished,' he said. 

'We have estimated the rebuilding efforts to be no less than $150 million. That is conservative, because we're talking about rebuilding everything, all of the institutions, the infrastructure, the telecommunications, the roads... Even the hotels on the island, those are totally demolished, as well. It is terrible.' 

Aerial footage of the Barbuda after Irma passed through showed a flattened, flooded landscape. 

The child who was killed, aged two, was trying to escape a damaged building with its mother at the time.   

Irma passed to the north of Puerto Rico just before 10.30pm on Wednesday lashing it with heavy rain and powerful winds. 

The majority of Barbuda's buildings were flattened when Hurricane Irma battered the tiny island with a population of 1,600 on Wednesday

The majority of Barbuda's buildings were flattened when Hurricane Irma battered the tiny island with a population of 1,600 on Wednesday

The deadly category 5 Hurricane Irma - the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic - made its first landfall early Wednesday morning, pummeling Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and sparking a 'major humanitarian crisis'

The deadly category 5 Hurricane Irma - the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic - made its first landfall early Wednesday morning, pummeling Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and sparking a 'major humanitarian crisis'

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the hurricane had destroyed about 90 percent of structures and vehicles in Barbuda. A resident is pictured above examining his damaged home in in St. John's, Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the hurricane had destroyed about 90 percent of structures and vehicles in Barbuda. A resident is pictured above examining his damaged home in in St. John's, Antigua and Barbuda

Boats piled up as the eye of Hurricane Irma passed over Tortola in British Virgin Islands on Wednesday

Boats piled up as the eye of Hurricane Irma passed over Tortola in British Virgin Islands on Wednesday

Hurricane Irma rages across Caribbean island of Saint Martin island

More than half of Puerto Rico's population of three million was left without power and at least 50,000 were without water, with rivers breaking their banks in the center and north of the island. 

Governor Ricardo Rossello had activated the National Guard and opened storm shelters sufficient to house up to 62,000 people. Fourteen hospitals were relying on emergency generators.

The hurricane was following a projected path that would see it hit the northern edges of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, continuing past eastern Cuba before veering north for Florida.

NOAA Hurricane Hunters flight director Richard Henning told CNN Wednesday night that Irma is 'getting stronger'. 

He said hurricane aircrafts were measuring winds over 189 mph at the eye of the storm. 

'You really can't over-hype this storm. We haven't really seen a storm like Irma.'  

The US National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma's magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida.

'The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we've ever seen,' Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. 'A lot of infrastructure won't be able to withstand this kind of force.' 

The storm moved west on Wednesday completely destroying the small islands in its path.  

Fallen trees block a street in Fajardo, Puerto Rico as Hurricane Irma howled past after thrashing several Caribbean islands

Fallen trees block a street in Fajardo, Puerto Rico as Hurricane Irma howled past after thrashing several Caribbean islands

A rescue team from the local emergency management agency inspects flooded areas after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on Wednesday night in Fajardo, Puerto Rico

A rescue team from the local emergency management agency inspects flooded areas after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on Wednesday night in Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Even before the storm hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday, it churned up winds strong enough to down trees, like the one above 

Even before the storm hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday, it churned up winds strong enough to down trees, like the one above 

Yanina Lopez took cover at an emergency center as Hurricane Irma approached Puerto Rico in Fajardo on Wednesday

Yanina Lopez took cover at an emergency center as Hurricane Irma approached Puerto Rico in Fajardo on Wednesday

Hotels were flooded and cars submerged as floods hit coastal areas during hurricane-force winds on St Martin overnight

Hotels were flooded and cars submerged as floods hit coastal areas during hurricane-force winds on St Martin overnight

Flooding and strong winds on the island of St Martin in the Caribbean destroyed about 95 per cent of the buildings

Flooding and strong winds on the island of St Martin in the Caribbean destroyed about 95 per cent of the buildings

This was the scene of devastation on St Martin after fierce winds and flooding destroyed buildings and swamped roads

This was the scene of devastation on St Martin after fierce winds and flooding destroyed buildings and swamped roads

On St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, Laura Strickling spent 12 hours hunkered down with her husband and 1-year-old daughter in a boarded-up basement apartment with no power as the storm raged outside. 

LATEST FLORIDA EVACUATION ORDERS: 

Florida Governor Rick Scott has ordered the emergency evacuation of Miami's coastal zones as Hurricane Irma approaches the United States mainland. 

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for all of zone A and the zone B barrier islands in Miami-Dade County.

This is the first evacuation in 12 years and saw 100,000 residents of mobile homes, barrier islands and low-lying mainland areas ordered to leave the city starting 9am on Thursday. 

Thursday morning's order applies to the county's zone A, which covers Key Biscane, and the coast-line along Southeast Miami-Dade and just north of Miami - but only to the barrier islands of zone B. 

That includes Bal Harbour, Bay Harbour Islands, Golden Beach, Indian Creek Village, Miami Beach, North Bay Village, Sunny Isles Beach and Surfside. 

Tolls on all highways have been suspended and evacuation had already begun in the Florida Keys 

 

They emerged to find the lush island in tatters, with many of their neighbors' homes damaged and the once-dense vegetation largely gone.

'There are no leaves. It is crazy. One of the things we loved about St. Thomas is that it was so green. And it's gone,' said Strickling, who moved to the island with her husband three years ago from Washington, D.C. 'It will take years for this community to get back on its feet.'

Significant effects were also reported on St Martin. Photos and video circulating on social media showed major damage to the airport in Philipsburg and the coastal village of Marigot heavily flooded. 

France sent emergency food and water rations there and to the French island of St. Bart's, where Irma ripped off roofs and knocked out all electricity. Dutch marines who flew to St Martin and two other Dutch islands hammered by Irma reported extensive damage but no deaths or injuries.

In Cuba, a state of alert was declared in several eastern and central provinces, with at-risk residents advised to move in with relatives or reach government shelters. 

Haiti's northern coast was on hurricane alert, although in the town of Cap-Haitien residents appeared mostly unaware of the impending storm. 

The US National Hurricane Center said Irma's winds would fluctuate, but the storm would likely remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it roared past the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas. 

Evacuations from high-risk areas were ordered throughout the path of the storm.

By early Sunday, Irma is expected to hit Florida, where Governor Rick Scott said he planned to activate 7,000 National Guard soldiers by Friday and warned that Irma is 'bigger, faster and stronger' than Hurricane Andrew. 

Andrew pummeled south Florida 25 years ago and wiped out entire neighborhoods with ferocious winds. 

Huge metal objects were flipped over, buildings were flooded and people were left trapped in buildings as the hurricane struck on St Martin

Huge metal objects were flipped over, buildings were flooded and people were left trapped in buildings as the hurricane struck on St Martin

Brute force: Hurricane Irma has wreaked havoc after pummeling exotic Caribbean islands with 185mph winds on its devastating march towards the US east coast. This was the scene on St Martin on Wednesday

Brute force: Hurricane Irma has wreaked havoc after pummeling exotic Caribbean islands with 185mph winds on its devastating march towards the US east coast. This was the scene on St Martin on Wednesday

Hurricane rescue teams evaluated the damage at Juliana Airport in St Martin after the storm passed on Wednesday

Hurricane rescue teams evaluated the damage at Juliana Airport in St Martin after the storm passed on Wednesday