The NHC warned that the storm, which moved through the Bahamas early Friday, was still “a life-threatening situation.” The hurricane had hit Turks and Caicos as a Category 5 storm late Thursday with maximum sustained wind speeds of 175 mph.
Irma has killed at least 14 people, with dozens more injured and thousands displaced.
Earlier Thursday, Irma’s astonishing force set a new record with wind speeds of at least 185 mph for a period of 37 hours, the longest any storm on record has maintained such high velocity. The storm is expected to remain a Category 4 or 5 hurricane for the next two days as it threatens to bear down on Florida over the weekend.
As the storm blew through Grand Turk island, roofs were ripped off dozens of residential homes, streets were flooded and snapped utility poles caused an island-wide blackout, the New York Times reported. Hurricane-force winds could be felt as far as 70 miles from the center of the storm.
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Ahead of the storm, Virginia Clerveaux, the director of the Turks and Caicos Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies, announced a national shutdown, which halts emergency services as residents wait for the storm to pass.
Speaking to CNN Thursday evening, the islands’ Gov. John Freeman said that residents should “hunker down, stay where you are because you can’t go out because the winds are far, far too strong.”
The tall mountains of Hispaniola just south of the British territory of Turks and Caicos are known for slowing down powerful hurricanes, but they’ve done little to weaken Irma, according to Anthony Farrell, chief meteorologist for Canada’s Global News.
High storm surge remains a serious concern for Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas, where the NHC forecasts waves of 15 to 20 feet.
“Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves,” the NHC warned.
The low-lying Turks and Caicos, home to about 35,000 people, has a highest point of just 163 feet. Those in the lowest areas have been evacuated to shelters, Gov. Freeman said.
Virginia Clerveaux, director of the Turks and Caicos Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies, told the BBC that more preparations are underway.
“We are now trying to remind [island residents] that this is a Category 5, and in the history of the Turks and Caicos islands this is the largest storm we have ever been impacted or threatened by,” she said.
“We have been saying to persons to ensure that they are prepared, ensure they can shelter safely, they have sufficient food and drinking water for two to three days.”
Concern for the islands has increased as criticism has mounted about how the United Kingdom handled Irma’s threats to its other territories. While the U.K. is now sending a military task force to its Caribbean islands where some 50,000 British citizens reside, the French and Dutch had already sent similar relief task forces to its territories a day earlier.
And the £12 million the U.K. pledged in relief funding for its islands is not nearly enough, Blondel Cluff, the U.K.-EU representative of the territory Anguilla said.
“If you divide these among those of us who have been hit, and not withstanding the fact Anguilla is the worst hit of all of them thus far, £12 million will not go very far,” Cluff told Sky News. “At the moment we don’t even have a workable hospital, airport or port.”
This story has been updated with new storm developments.