Hurricane Irma has dominated the Caribbean islands of Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin on Wednesday, the French weather office said, adding that it had caused major flooding in low-lying areas.
Coastlines are being “battered extremely violently” by the sea, it said, adding: “These islands are suffering major impacts.”
As Irma approached the French-run Saint Barthelemy, a favourite jet-setters’ destination also known as St. Barts, the office measured winds of 244 kilometres per hour (151 mph).
But its monitoring equipment has since been destroyed by the hurricane, it said.
Irma’s eye, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) in diameter, hovered for about one and a half hours over St. Barts, bringing an eery but deceptive calm, said weatherman Jerome Lecou.
The French government had previously sounded the alarm over thousands of people who had refused to seek shelter on St. Barts as well as Saint Martin, an island divided between France and the Netherlands.
Meanwhile the top hurricane warning was lifted in Guadeloupe, to the southeast, authorities there said while still warning of heavy rain and storms and a “dangerous sea”.
Irma was headed next for Britain’s Anguilla island, the British Virgin Islands and the east end of Puerto Rico, officials said.