General view of half-submerged vehicles, boats and debris in the flooded harbour as Hurricane Irma hits the French island territory of Saint Martin on September 6. Photograph: (Reuters)
Hurricane Irma weakened slightly to a Category 4 storm early Saturday, according to the US National Hurricane Center, after making landfall hours earlier in Cuba with maximum-strength Category 5 winds.
The fierce storm was zeroing in on Florida, churning some 245 miles (395 kilometers) away from Miami and packing still powerful maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour.
"Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is expected to remain a powerful hurricane as it approaches Florida," the NHC said in its latest public advisory.
Irma is expected to strike the Florida Keys late Saturday and Sunday before moving inland, and many residents have joined a mass exodus amid increasingly dire alerts to leave.
In Cuba, government officials reported "significant damage" in parts of the island's center without providing further details, but said there were not yet confirmed casualties.
More than a million people on the Caribbean's largest island have been evacuated as a precaution, authorities said.
Another Category 4 hurricane, Jose, was also swirling in the Atlantic with maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour and heading towards the same string of Caribbean islands Irma had pummeled in the days before.
And after striking the eastern coast of Mexico late Friday as a Category 1 hurricane, Katia was downgraded to a tropical storm and "beginning to stall" near the Sierra Madre mountains -- though heavy rainfall would still "likely cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, especially in areas of mountainous terrain," the NHC said.
Hurricane Irma has wreaked an estimated 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion) worth of damage in the Caribbean territories of St Martin and St Barts, French state-owned reinsurer CCR said Saturday.
"This amount covers damages to homes, vehicles and businesses" insured for natural disasters, CCR said in a statement.
The disaster is "one of the worst experienced by France in 35 years," it said.
CCR chief Bertrand Labilloy said Friday that the reinsurer had "sufficient reserves to cover the disaster whatever the cost."
The overall damage across the Caribbean has been estimated at more than $10 billion.
Sint Maarten, the Dutch part of St Martin, has suffered $2.5 billion in damage, according to the Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology (CEDIM) in Germany.
According to data modelling firm Enki Research the total bill for loss and damage could hit $120 billion once the United States is included.