Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm with winds of up to 175 miles an hour, continued to tear through the Caribbean on Thursday, leaving devastation in its wake and prompting evacuation orders across the region.
The death toll was at least seven on Thursday afternoon, and the authorities warned that the number could rise as communications improved. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe of France said that four people were confirmed dead on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, lowering a previous toll of eight deaths given by local rescue officials.
A St. Martin official said on Wednesday night that “95 percent of the island is destroyed.”
More than 70 percent of Puerto Rico households were without power on Thursday, though the territory appeared to be largely unscathed, the governor said. It was the latest blow for a territory mired in bankruptcy and debt that have left public works like power plants and retaining walls in poor shape.
Irma, one of most powerful Atlantic storms ever recorded, was between Hispaniola and Turks and Caicos on Thursday afternoon, though its winds had weakened slightly. A hurricane watch was issued for South Florida, the Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Gov. Rick Scott of Florida urged residents to heed the advice of local officials in preparing for a powerful storm that could quickly change its course. “Every Florida family must prepare to evacuate regardless of the coast you live on,” he said at a news conference.
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Deteriorating conditions in Turks and Caicos.
A national shutdown was declared on the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday afternoon, halting emergency services as the storm passed.
“All residents and tourists are instructed to stay indoors, as responders will not be able to provide relief services during this time until further notice,” said Virginia Clerveaux, the director of the Disaster Management Department.
The few supermarkets in the city of Providenciales were crammed with residents stocking up on food, and there were long lines at gas stations.
Ms. Clerveaux warned of deteriorating conditions on the island after 2 p.m. “We expect to have very strong storm surges, and roads will be severely flooded,” she said.
Scores of people were already in emergency shelters that had opened on Wednesday evening.
— HAYDEN BOYCE
Haiti closes public and private institutions.
The Haitian government called for all institutions, public and private, including banks and stores, to be shut down from noon on Thursday until further notice.
President Jovenel Moïse said in a televised speech that his cabinet had spent a week preparing for the hurricane, but he also outlined the challenges ahead, noting that 77 percent of the country was mountainous, much of it inaccessible by road.
He urged people to heed the hurricane warnings and get to a safe place. “The hurricane is not a game,” he said.
All schools in the country were closed on Wednesday and Thursday, and the more than 800 temporary shelters set up across the country have started providing food to people affected by the storm.
The police are working with local officials to evacuate people from the most vulnerable areas along the northern coast, “by force if necessary,” Interior Minister Max Rudolph Saint-Albin said at a news conference on Thursday.
The concern is not just about possible drownings and injuries from the storm, but also that a surge of cholera could follow, as happened last year after Hurricane Matthew devastated the country’s southwest.
The Minister of Public Health, speaking on national television and radio, urged people to add bleach to their drinking and bathing water and to put together first-aid kits at home.
To date this year, government reports show that 104 people have died from the waterborne disease that broke out in Haiti starting in 2010.
— CATHERINE PORTER
‘Our prayers were answered.’
In Puerto Rico, nearly 70 percent of households were without power in the wake of the storm, which otherwise left the island largely unscathed, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said on Thursday.
Roughly 40 percent of the territory’s hospitals were functioning, he said, and were accepting transfers of about 40 patients from the United States Virgin Islands.
Power outages have left about 17 percent of the territory without running water, he said.
“We would like to start out thanking the Almighty,” Mr. Rosselló said of the relatively small impact the storm had on Puerto Rico, with fallen trees and electrical poles making up the bulk of the damage on the main island. “Our prayers were answered.”
Total rainfall on the island ranged from two to eight inches, the governor said, but southern regions are still at risk of flooding because the rain there had not stopped.
Concern had been greatest for the small island of Culebra. Communication with the island remained difficult, but Mr. Rosselló said that the authorities had managed to speak with the mayor and the police lieutenant there.
“The information we have — again, thank God, because Culebra did see wind gusts above 100 m.p.h. — is positive,” he said.
— FRANCES ROBLES
A record period of 185 m.p.h. winds.
Irma’s 185 m.p.h. wind speeds persisted for more than 24 hours, the longest period ever recorded. The French weather service described it as the most enduring superstorm on record.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda said that half of Barbuda had been left homeless from the storm. Officials declared a state of emergency there on Thursday.
Around 11 a.m., the storm’s eye was off the northern coast of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the National Hurricane Center said. It is expected to remain a Category 4 or 5 storm throughout the day.
The storm is expected to move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas on Thursday night, before coming close to Cuba on Friday or Saturday.
In the Dominican Republic, officials evacuated some areas near the beachfront town of Cabarete on the north coast, though some residents chose to stay boarded up their homes and ride it out.
President Danilo Medina canceled work for public and private companies, and schools were closed until Monday as emergency workers spread out to manage the storm’s expected fallout.
Seventeen provinces, mostly along the nation’s northern, eastern and southern coastlines, had been under a red alert since Wednesday. But the center of the storm was passing in the north, with winds and rains lashing areas like Puerto Plata.
Evacuations took place in Samana, a popular resort area, where heavy winds and rain struck the beaches and roads. Residents in Cabarete said that so far the effects of the storm were relatively mild.
“It’s really not that bad,” said Lindsay Sauvage, who lives with her family in Cabarete and said the electricity had shut off around 3 a.m. “We expected much worse.”
— CARL JOSEPH and AZAM AHMED
‘It’s just unbelievable. It’s indescribable.’
Four people have been confirmed dead on the island of St Martin, Mr. Philippe, the French prime minister, said on Thursday, lowering a previous toll of eight deaths given by local rescue officials.
Around 50 people were injured, including two seriously, he said, and 60 percent of homes on the island are so badly damaged that they are now uninhabitable. Rescue workers assessing the damage on St. Martin and St. Barthélemy.
At least three deaths were reported elsewhere.
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