Gov. Ricardo RossellÃ³ urged Puerto Ricans in flood-prone areas to head to designated shelters.
“Please allow us to help you seek refuge in shelter, and let people know the priority is to weather the storm (and) seek safe haven,” Rossello said.
On Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands, Kennedy Banda said fierce winds blew out the windows of his home. He and his family were taking shelter in a bathroom; he said he was bracing his body against the door in an attempt to keep it shut.
“Everything is blown out,” he told CNN by phone near Road Town. “Everything is gone.”
Earlier, he posted video on Facebook showing wind and pounding rain whipping the shoreline as Irma’s core approached.
The hurricane earlier battered a string of northern Caribbean island nations
, situated east of the more populous Virgin Islands group and Puerto Rico.
Early reports suggested damage on parts of the smaller islands, a tropical region popular with tourists.
Barbuda, home to about 1,600 people, was “so badly damaged that there is no communication” from the island, said Keithley Meade, director of a meteorological office in Antigua and Barbuda.
“We have a lot of broken trees across the island,” Meade said from Antigua, whose 80,000 people comprise most of the two-island nation’s population.
Irma destroyed four of the most solid government buildings on the French-administered portion of nearby St. Martin, an island of about 75,000 people, French Interior Minister GÃ©rard Collomb said in Paris.
It’s likely that all other older buildings there have at least been damaged, he said.
Roughly 10 of these smaller islands — such as St. Martin, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis — were pounded by hurricane conditions. One, Guadeloupe, has about 405,000 residents. The rest have about 264,400 people combined.
*WeatherWatch.co.nz is a CNN Weather affiliate