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Hurricane Irma Inflicts 'Heart-Wrenching' Devastation on Barbuda, Heads for Florida

Pictures began to emerge of the devastation that Category 5 Hurricane Irma unleashed on a small Caribbean island as Floridians began evacuating out of the storm’s path.

As it closed in on Puerto Rico today, the National Hurricane Center said Irma was packing 185 mph winds. It was on track to move past the Dominican Republic and be off the coast of Cuba by Saturday afternoon, poised to hit Florida and move up the east coast.

A mandatory evacuation for Monroe County, home of the Florida Keys, began today. Miami-Dade County began evacuating residents with special needs today, and advised residents in low-lying areas to begin leaving. Mandatory evacuations have also been ordered for the barrier islands and coastal area of Broward County. Highway tolls have been suspended across the state to aid evacuations.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said Antigua lost all communication with Barbuda early this morning. After the storm passed, he was able to fly over the island to assess the damage and deemed it “heart-wrenching” and “absolutely devastating.”

Browne told CNN that about 95 percent of the properties on the island of more than 1,600 residents were damaged, with about 20-30 percent totally destroyed and all the infrastructure leveled. The airport runway was damaged, meaning aid deliveries to the island will come by helicopter. The prime minister said one fatality was confirmed.

Rebuilding Barbuda will cost “no less than $100 million,” the prime minister said, adding that’s a “conservative” estimate. Actor Robert de Niro, an investor in an luxury resort that had been under construction there, has vowed to help the island rebuild.

The White House said President Trump today spoke with U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

Rosselló told CNN by phone this evening that “the winds that we are experiencing right now are like nothing we have experienced before.”

“Puerto Rico has, you know, many of its structures have been designed in hard concrete. We expect, you know, some of them to withstand. But, of course, there are some lower level infrastructures that we expect to lose. That’s why we make such a big effort to mobilize people into safe, hard concrete structures, so that they could be safe,” the governor said.

“…I can tell you from our purview, from the center of operations that we have over here in San Juan, there is a pretty significant damage already done and we have been getting — you know, we have been connected to the social media and so forth. So, we expect a lot of damage, perhaps not as much as was seen in Barbuda. They essentially got the very heavy winds. We’re getting wind gusts up to 100 and 110 miles an hour.”

Scott warned that Irma “is bigger than Andrew — it’s stronger than Andrew.”

“It has way more wind, way more storm surge than Andrew ever had, and we can think of how devastating that was,” the governor said. “…We need to make sure when someone tells you to evacuate, don’t wait, because that’s when the lines get long on the roads, things like that. So, when someone tells you to evacuate, evacuate. Take this seriously and just figure out, I can rebuild. We all can rebuild homes. We can’t rebuild somebody’s life.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned that “24 hours ahead of it is not going to give you enough time” to prepare for a storm of this magnitude.

“It’s so important that people be prepared to sustain themselves and their families with three or four days of food and water and medicine because it will take a while,” he said. “This storm, if it comes through and clears out, that’s one thing. But if it actually continues to pound other parts of the state, it may be a while until, you know, FEMA and other agencies can kind of begin to deliver assistance down there.”