By Kate Samuelson
September 8, 2017

The low-lying Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean Sea, southeast of the Bahamas, have been hit by Hurricane Irma as the now Category 4 storm continues to move north-westwards towards Florida.

Communications went down on the small groups of islands — which have a population of just over 50,000, according to the CIA — and at least 14 people were killed, the BBC reports. The damage from Hurricane Irma so far includes ripped roofs off houses and flooded streets in the region.

Virginia Clerveaux, director of the Turks and Caicos Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies (DDME), said that the department was “expecting inundation” from both the rainfall and the storm surge. “We may not be able to come rescue [residents] in a timely manner,” she warned.

A national shutdown was declared on Thursday, with a statement from the DDME warning residents and tourists to “stay indoors” and responders to “shelter-in-place.”

Turks and Caicos tourism officials urged tourists to leave the islands if they “[had] the means to do so safely” earlier in the week. A statement released on Facebook said that visitors who were unable to leave or were opting to remain on the Islands should “stay inside during the storm and pay attention to the public advisories issued by the DDME.”

On Sept. 6, the U.S.’ Overseas Security Advisory Council ordered the departure of non-essential U.S. government employees and their family members from the Islands, as well as the Bahamas, due to Hurricane Irma, which was downgraded from a Category 5 hurricane early Friday.

The U.S. is bracing itself for Irma, which is currently heading westwards towards central Cuba and the Bahamas, while other Caribbean islands are preparing themselves for Hurricane Jose, the Category 3 storm which is following in Irma’s wake.

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