Hurricane Irma roared into the Caribbean with record force early Wednesday, its 185-mph (300 kph) winds shaking homes and flooding buildings on a chain of small islands along a path toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and likely Florida by the weekend.
It is the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded.
The centre of the storm was about 15 miles (25 kilometres) west of Saint Martin and Anguilla about 8 a.m. Wednesday, the hurricane centre said.
It was heading west-northwest at 16 mph (26 km/h).
The US National Hurricane Centre said Irma’s winds would fluctuate but the storm would likely remain at Category 4 or 5 strength for the next day or two.
The most dangerous winds, usually nearest to the eye, were forecast to pass near the northern Virgin Islands and near or just north of Puerto Rico on Wednesday.
US President Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and authorities in the Bahamas said they would evacuate six southern islands.