A Cornish charity is on standby as the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded hits the Caribbean.
Irma has maintained category five strength with sustained winds near 185 miles per hour.
Truro-based ShelterBox is ready to send out aid.
The charity is in touch with its Florida-based office, its US response teams, and its contacts and partners across the Caribbean, as Hurricane Irma threatens several countries.
Experts in storm and flooding response worldwide, ShelterBox teams are heading to Bagladesh where eight million are affected, and are in Nepal now where 1.7 million are in peril.
Teams have also been in Texas offering assistance following Hurricane Harvey.
Want to #Track #HurricaneIrma? https://t.co/eMa2nETpXX
— ShelterBox (@ShelterBox) September 6, 2017
The eye of Hurricane Irma first roared over Barbuda at 1.47am local time, also hitting the nearby island of Antigua.
St Barts and St Martin were next to be hit, as low-lying areas were hit by flooding, according to the French weather office.
All government buildings on the French-run side of the island of St Martin had been destroyed, according to French interior minister Gerard Collomb.
“We know that the four most solid buildings on the island have been destroyed which means that more rustic structures have probably been completely or partially destroyed,” he told reporters.
French overseas territories minister Annick Girardin said Irma had caused “major damage” on several islands.
The hurricane has maintained category five strength with sustained winds near 185mph (295kph), the US National Hurricane Centre said.
UPDATE: Hurricane #Irma has strengthened to category 5 as it heads to the Caribbean. %uD83C%uDF00https://t.co/0x1jIBizHX
— ShelterBox (@ShelterBox) September 5, 2017
According to some weather experts, the hurricane covers an area bigger than the UK and Ireland.
The weather station on St Barts measured winds of 151mph (244kph) before its monitoring equipment was destroyed by the storm.
“We are hunkered down and it is very windy… So far, some roofs have been blown off,” said Garfield Burford from Antigua and Barbuda’s ABS TV and Radio.
Most people were without power and around 1,000 people on Antigua were spending the night in shelters, Mr Burford said.
“It’s very scary… most of the islands are dark, so it’s very, very frightening,” he added.
The wind sent debris flying as people huddled in their homes, many of which do not have concrete foundations and only wooden roofs.
Tourists in the area were evacuated on Tuesday before the hurricane arrived.
British Airways sent an empty aircraft to the region, bringing 326 customers back to the UK, and a Virgin Atlantic flight left Antigua five hours early to avoid the storm.
The Foreign Office said Britons should follow the advice of authorities and heed evacuation orders.
MONITORING: Tropical Storm Irma intensifying in the eastern #Atlantic. %uD83C%uDF00 https://t.co/5D7t0BUPXW
— ShelterBox (@ShelterBox) September 1, 2017
Irma is currently heading through the Caribbean towards Florida and may make landfall at the weekend, but its precise path is uncertain.
The most dangerous winds are forecast to pass near the northern Virgin Islands and near or just north of Puerto Rico during the day on Wednesday.
Hurricane warnings are in place on several islands, including the British Overseas Territory of Anguilla, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
President Trump has declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
If it hits Florida it will be the second powerful storm to hit the US mainland in two weeks after Hurricane Harvey caused devastation and led to the deaths of 60 people.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis has also said the government there will evacuate six southern islands as authorities would not be able to help people caught in “potentially catastrophic” conditions.
4:35pm 6th September 2017