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Hurricane Irma Passes Over Barbuda, Heads Toward Puerto Rico

"May God protect us all."

NBC - The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history made its first landfall in the islands of the northeast Caribbean early Wednesday, churning along a path pointing to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida this weekend.

The eye of Hurricane Irma passed over Barbuda around 1:47 a.m. ET, the National Weather Service said.

Irma's sustained winds of 185 mph inched toward the highest on record: the 190-mph pummeling that Hurricane Allen gave the Caribbean, northern Mexico and southern Texas in 1980.

Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma's "onslaught" in a statement that closed with: "May God protect us all."

Many homes on Barbuda and the neighboring island of Antigua are not built on concrete foundations or have poorly constructed wooden roofs that are susceptible to wind damage.

The National Weather Service predicted life-threatening hazards and severe damage beginning as early as Wednesday in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"You could potentially see some real devastation and destruction to the homes there," said Heather Tesch, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel. "Add to that the storm surge and potential flooding, along with some very heavy rains [and] the wind damage — it is going to be a real mess in some of these areas."

Irma is a "potentially catastrophic" storm, the National Weather Service warned. It is almost certain to produce complete roof and wall failures, destruction of mobile homes, wind-launched airborne projectiles, snapped and uprooted trees, inaccessible roads and bridges and widespread power and communications outages, forecasters warned.

States of emergency were in effect up and down the eastern Caribbean and already across all of Florida on Tuesday.

Turn to 18 News TODAY for full coverage Wednesday morning.  

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