The eye of Hurricane Irma was passing just north of Puerto Rico Wednesday night, knocking out power and running water to hundreds of thousands of people.
Irma is a Category 5 storm and the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. Its top sustained winds are 295 kilometers per hour (183 mph).
U.S. President Donald Trump earlier declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico, which has been struggling to maintain its infrastructure amid a financial crisis. The declaration authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief efforts on the island.
Some officials say it could be as long as six months for power to be fully restored.
Meanwhile, the prime minister of the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, told CNN that Barbuda is “barely habitable” after taking a direct hit from Irma.
Browne said 95 percent of the properties on Barbuda are damaged, calling it “unprecedented destruction.”
At least one death on Barbuda has been reported while three others are reported dead on other Caribbean islands.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he expects the toll Irma took on the French West Indies, including St. Martin and St. Barts, to be “harsh and cruel” with considerable casualties and damage.
Forecasters said after Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti are next in Irma’s path. The Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas are bracing for a hit as Irma moves along its forecast path toward Florida.
Irma is predicted to strike southern Florida and the Miami area by Sunday.
One meteorologist said Irma is big enough that the entire state could fit inside its dimensions.
While an exact forecast is nearly impossible to nail down, Florida Governor Rick Scott told people to prepare now and not ignore mandatory evacuation orders.
“You can rebuild your homes, but you cannot rebuild your life,” Scott said.
The Florida Keys and Miami Beach are under a mandatory evacuation. People are finding long lines at gas stations that still have fuel. Anyone entering a southern Florida supermarket is finding more empty shelves than full ones.
The governor said stores are working as hard as they can to restock supplies, especially bottled water.
Storm surge, heavy rain
Forecasters said Irma could bring storm surges of 2 to 6 meters (6 to 19 feet) and as much as 50 centimeters (19.5 inches) of rain on top of its fierce winds.
Governor Scott said the storm is worse than Hurricane Andrew, the 1992 storm that turned entire Miami neighborhoods into empty lots.
Some longtime Florida residents who stayed put for Andrew and other powerful storms say they are not going to take any chances with Irma.
Along with Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, President Trump declared a state of emergency in Florida. He has ordered FEMA to begin relief efforts even while it is still helping southeastern Texas clean up from last month’s Category 4 Hurricane Harvey.
Hurricanes need tropical water for fuel, and Irma’s power is coming from the unusually warm waters in the Atlantic.
WATCH: Caribbean Island Nations, Florida Brace for Hurricane Irma
Meanwhile, forecasters have their eyes on two other hurricanes.
Hurricane Jose is a Category 1 storm east of the Lesser Antilles islands and still far from land.
Hurricane Katia is also a Category 1, in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico, prompting authorities to issue a hurricane watch for the coast of Veracruz, Mexico.
Experts call the formation of three simultaneous Atlantic hurricanes extremely rare.