At least 8 killed as Hurricane Irma causes 'enormous damage' to Caribbean island

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: Hurricane Irma killed eight people on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin and left Barbuda devastated yesterday as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in almost a century took aim at Florida.

Footage of the Franco-Dutch island of Saint Martin showed a damaged marina with boats tossed into piles, submerged streets and flooded homes. Power was knocked out on Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy and in parts of the US territory of Puerto Rico.

"It is an enormous disaster; 95 per cent of the island is destroyed. I am in shock," chairman of a council on Saint Martin Daniel Gibbs told Radio Caribbean International.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the death toll was likely to rise and 23 people were injured.

Irma caused "enormous damage" to the Dutch side of Saint Martin, Sint Maarten, the Royal Netherlands Navy said. It tweeted images of damaged houses, hotels and boats.

The airport was unreachable, it said.

The hurricane is on track to reach Florida on Sunday.

Antigua and Barbuda is a scene of "total carnage" and the tiny two-island nation will seek international assistance.

Its Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the BBC about half of Barbuda's population of some 1,800 were homeless while nine out of 10 buildings had suffered damage and many were destroyed.

"We flew into Barbuda only to see total carnage. It was easily one of the most emotionally painful experiences I have had," Mr Browne told BBC Radio Four.

He said it could even take years to restore some level of normalcy to the island.

Mr Browne added that one person was killed on Barbuda.

Irma hit Puerto Rico yesterday, buffeting its capital San Juan with rain and wind that scattered tree limbs across roadways.

At least half of Puerto Rico's homes and businesses were without power, according to Twitter posts and a message posted by an island utility executive.

The National Hurricane Center said Irma was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the five most forceful storms to hit the Atlantic basin in 82 years.

Hurricane watches were in effect for the north-western Bahamas and much of Cuba. - REUTERS