THE French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy in the Caribbean were first to bear the brunt of Hurricane Irma yesterday, with roofs torn off and all electricity knocked out. France requisitioned planes and sent in emergency food and water rations.

The regional authority for Guadeloupe and neighbouring islands said the fire station in Saint Barthelemy was under 3ft of water and no rescue vehicles could move.

It said the government headquarters in Saint Martin had been partially destroyed and the island is in a total blackout. Electricity was also partially down on the larger island of Guadeloupe. The French minister for overseas territories, Annick Girardin, expressed fear “for a certain number of our compatriots who unfortunately didn’t want to listen to the protection measures and go to more secure sites”. She added: “We’re preparing for the worst.”

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said his twin-island nation appeared to have weathered its brush with Irma.

He said there were no deaths in Antigua and preliminary reports indicated there were no deaths in Barbuda despite widespread reports of damaged buildings and downed trees.

The hurricane is roaring along a path pointing to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend. The eye of the storm passed over Barbuda at around 1.47am, the US National Weather Service said. Heavy rain and howling winds raked neighbour Antigua, sending debris flying as people huddled in their homes or government shelters.

Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma’s “onslaught” in a statement that closed by saying: “May God protect us all.”

The most dangerous winds, usually nearest to the eye of the hurricane, were forecast to pass near the northern Virgin Islands and near or just north of Puerto Rico.

US President Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. And authorities in the Bahamas said they would evacuate six southern islands.

The northern Leeward Islands were expected to see normal tide levels rise by as much as 11ft while the Turks and Caicos Islands and south-eastern Bahamas could see a surge of 20ft and higher waves later in the week, forecasters said.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said his government was evacuating six islands in the south because authorities would not be able to help anyone caught in the “potentially catastrophic” wind, flooding and storm surge. People there would be flown to Nassau in what he called the largest storm evacuation in the country’s history.

“The price you may pay for not evacuating is your life or serious physical harm,” Minnis warned.

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 2748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida. “The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we’ve ever seen,” Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said. “A lot of infrastructure won’t be able to withstand this kind of force.”

The director of the island’s power company has warned that storm damage could leave some areas without electricity for about a week to as long as six months.

In Florida, people stocked up on drinking water and other supplies. Governor Rick Scott activated 100 members of the Florida National Guard to be deployed across the state, and 7000 National Guard members are to report for duty tomorrow when the storm could be approaching.

Officials in the Florida Keys geared up to get tourists and residents out of Irma’s path. The mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Gimenez said people should be prepared to evacuate Miami Beach and most coastal areas. He also activated the emergency operation centre and urged residents to have three days’ worth of food and water.

Trump said his administration was watching Hurricane Irma closely. He tweeted: “Team, which has done, and is doing, such a good job in Texas, is already in Florida. No rest for the weary!”

The US State Department urged citizens to reconsider any plans to travel to Cuba, Haiti or the Dominican Republic, warning that the Category 5 storm could bring life-threatening flooding, flash flooding, mudslides, and storm surge.

The department authorised the voluntary departure of US government employees and family members from the three countries.