MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The largest evacuation in the history of the Bahamas is underway as thousands of people in the path of Hurricane Irma flee to safety.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis ordered a mandatory evacuation of six islands in the southern part of the island chain. He said the Category 5 hurricane posed a dire threat to the islands of Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay and Ragged Island.
People who live on the islands will be flown Wednesday to Nassau on the island of New Providence.
People who don’t evacuate will be at “great danger” from storm surge caused by what he called a “monster” hurricane. Minnis says emergency personnel may not be available to rescue them when the storm is at its height between Thursday and Friday.
The governor of another island in Irma’s path has also warned his people that it was more dangerous than Hurricane Harvey.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Tuesday that the “dangerousness of this system” has never been seen in Puerto Rico.
In his words: “It is much more dangerous than Harvey. The results could be catastrophic and devastating.”
Rossello says the winds of the Category 5 storm will lash Culebra island around dawn Wednesday and move to Puerto Rico shortly afterward. He says the U.S. territory’s northeast coast will feel the brunt.
Irma has already left its mark on several islands. Just before 2 a.m. it passed directly over the island of Barbuda, causing widespread flooding and downing trees. France sent emergency food and water rations to the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, where Irma ripped off roofs and knocked out all electricity.
The regional authority for Guadeloupe and neighboring islands said the fire station in Saint Barthelemy was flooded by more than 3 feet of water and no rescue vehicles could move. The government headquarters on Saint Martin was partially destroyed.
There were no immediate reports of casualties but the minister for overseas territories, Annick Girardin, said “We have a lot to fear for a certain number of our compatriots who unfortunately didn’t want to listen to the protection measures and go to more secure sites … We’re preparing for the worst.”
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the twin-island nation appears to have weathered its brush with Irma.
He issued a statement after the worst of the storm had passed which read in part, “My first words must be of thanks. Thanks to Almighty God in all his forms for standing at our side at a time of great adversity.
It went on.
“We in Antigua have weathered the most powerful hurricane ever to storm its way through the Caribbean. And we have done so with stunning results. The forecast was that Antigua would be devastated, our infrastructure demolished, people killed and our economy destroyed.
In the light of day, the picture is very different. In Antigua, no life has been lost – all the people survived. Our airport will be open for flights into and out of Antigua by 2pm today. The people of Antigua should all be very proud of the part that each of them played in our impressive story of readiness and resilience.”
There were widespread reports of property damage but he said the public and government had prepared well for the storm.
President Donald Trump has already declared emergencies in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands along with Florida.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)