Hurricane Irma Death Toll: Category 5 Storm Turns Deadly As U.N. Estimates 37 Million Will Be Affected

hurricane irma wreckage
An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma sowed a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean on Wednesday, reducing to rubble the tropical islands of Barbuda and St. Martin. Gerben van Es/AFP/Getty Images

Hurricane Irma lashed the Caribbean on Wednesday, leaving behind a trail of devastation and casualties as the United Nations warned that as many as 37 million people could be affected by the hurricane.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that so far one casualty was confirmed, one infant who died as the mother tried to escape from a house that was damaged during the storm, although the causes of death are still to be determined.  

He described the damage he witnessed while flying over the smaller of the two sister islands, which was hit heavily by the storm, while Antigua did not sustain major damage.

Hurricane Irma, a category 5 hurricane, is the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic basin but two more tropical storms Jose and Katia, are also on their way, which both strengthened into hurricanes on Wednesday. It is the first time since 2010 that the Atlantic has had three active hurricanes in its basin.

Browne described the devastation he saw flying over Barbuda.

“What I saw was heart wrenching, absolutely devastating. On a per capita basis, the level of destruction in Barbuda is unprecedented,” the prime minister said, speaking on live television.  

Browne estimated that about 95 percent of the island’s structures, including houses, utilities and other infrastructure, suffered some form of damage, either partial or complete. The prime minister described the island as being “literally under water” and “barely habitable” adding that, while relief efforts will be underway, he is also considering evacuating the islanders depending on how Hurricane Jose develops. Already 60 percent of the island’s 1,600-strong population is homeless.

Similarly devastating damage was also reported in St. Martin, an island divided into a French and a Dutch side, known as Sint Maarten.

A local politician said that the French side of the island is almost completely destroyed. "It's an enormous catastrophe. Ninety-five percent of the island is destroyed. I'm in shock. It's frightening," St. Martin President Daniel Gibbs told Radio Caribbean International.

Six casualties were confirmed, but the death toll is expected to rise. “This is not, by far, a definitive number...we have not explored all the parts of the island,” Guadeloupe prefect Eric Maire told reporters, quoted in Reuters.

The hurricane also destroyed the Princess Juliana International Airport on the Dutch side of the island. Dutch Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk shared on Twitter a post fromt the Dutch Navy showing aerial views of the island, calling the damage “enormous”.

More than half the island of Puerto Rico was without power, leaving 900,000 in the dark and nearly 50,000 without water as the hurricane passed over the north of the island, the Associated Press reported.

"The winds that we are experiencing right now are like nothing we have experienced before," Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN. "We expect a lot of damage, perhaps not as much as was seen in Barbuda."

According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Irma is now heading for the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti's Hispaniola island, where authorities are bracing for more damage. It will then continue towards the British overseas territory of Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas by Thursday evening, where a hurricane warning remains in place.  

The U.N. said on Wednesday it dispatched a humanitarian team to the Barbados to work with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and additional teams remain on standby. U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti, where the agency is wrapping up its mission, are also ready to support the local authorities.