No storm has ever maintained such high wind speeds for so long. Hurricane Irma broke the record on Thursday, after battering several Caribbean islands and threatening Cuba, the Bahamas and Florida.
Irma maintained 185 mph winds for a record 37 hours and existed as a Category 5 hurricane for more than 51 hours.
The storm is expected to bring “life-threatening wind, storm surge and rainfall hazards” to the northern coast of Hispaniola, which includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti, on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center warned. It will pass directly over — or very near — the low-lying islands of Turks and Caicos and parts of the Bahamas on Thursday and Friday, the center forecast, and push a storm surge of seawater 15 to 20 feet high. The surge could put large parts of the islands under water.
“At this point we’re just trying to prepare, because we’re not exactly sure when she will touch down,” said Shaddia Smith, from Freeport in the Bahamas Thursday morning. “Most people now are just securing their homes and stocking up on food storage. They don’t want to take anything lightly.”
Puerto Rico managed to escape the worst of the storm’s wrath, though nearly 70% of households were without power and 17% of the island was without water, according to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.
“We would like to start out thanking the Almighty,” Rosselló said in a statement. “Our prayers were answered.”
For many who lived through the fierce winds, it was an almost indescribable experience.
“Right now we are feeling the fury of this hurricane,” José Pérez, director of emergency management of Culebra, a small island east of Puerto Rico’s main island, told the New York Times. “I was 13 and I obviously remember Hurricane Hugo, but this is something incomparable. This is something terrible, an experience out of this world.”
Alex Woolfall, a British public relations consultant, described “thunderous sonic boom noises” and the “scream of things being hurled against the building.” while staying at the Westin resort on the Dutch side of St. Martin.
Meanwhile, evacuations continued in Florida, where the storm might make landfall early Sunday morning. Traffic was jamming the two main highways, I-75 and I-95. Beverly Taylor, who lives in Plantation, to the west of Ft. Lauderdale, said that she and her husband, James, were planning to drive to Destin, on the Florida Panhandle, to stay with a relative for a while.
“We don’t fear for our safety,” Taylor said in an interview Wednesday night. “You hate to leave your house because if something happens to it you’re 600 miles away and that is not a fun thing.” But she said the couple were leaving because of a possible extended power outage.
“This hurricane appears to be morphing into Hurricane Andrew,” she said, referring to the devastating storm of 1992. “It’s still hotter than blue blazes down here. When you ‘re without power, you’re miserable, you’re hot. We’re not big cooker-outers. We’re both in our mid 70s. We’ve done the roughing it thing before.”