Hurricane Irma this morning made landfall in Cuba as a Category 5 storm, the highest ranking, after blazing a destructive trail through islands in the Caribbean.
Winds as fast as 160 miles per hour were recorded on the northern coast of Cuba, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC). It was later downgraded to a Category 4 storm, with winds still reaching consistent speeds of 130 miles per hour.
Category 5 hurricanes are expected to cause “catastrophic damage”, according to the NHC, with a “high percentage of framed homes” totally destroyed and areas left “uninhabitable”. Category 4 hurricanes still cause "catastrophic damage", according to the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.
Winds had been recorded in previous days at 185 miles per hour, one of the five fiercest Atlantic storms in the past 82 years, according to Reuters.
The hurricane has already devastated Caribbean islands, including Barbuda, whose Prime Minister said 95 per cent of buildings were damaged, and Saint Martin. The islands are heavily dependent on tourism to sustain their economies.
A second hurricane, Jose, is expected to pass over these same islands in the following days.
The centre of the storm is projected to pass directly over Florida, in the US, with an estimated time of 8am US time on Sunday to make landfall. The most likely projected path of the hurricane is directly along the Florida peninsula, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
Florida governor Rick Scott yesterday ordered mandatory evacuations of some vulnerable coastal areas, with 7,000 members of the state’s national guard called to assist in preparing for the hurricane.
US President Donald Trump’s so-called winter White House, the Mar-a-Lago resort, was among the evacuations.
Irma threatens to be the second climate-related disaster to hit the US mainland in the past fortnight, after Hurricane Harvey caused massive damage. Houston, Texas, in particular faced catastrophic flooding, which will cost billions of dollars to repair.