Hurricane Irma roared into the Caribbean Wednesday, passing over the islands of Saint Martin and Barbuda as residents were forced to shelter indoors, facing power outages, battling 185 mph winds and bracing for 11-foot waves from the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history.
The center of the storm was about 15 miles west of Saint Martin and Anguilla about 8 a.m. Wednesday, the hurricane center said. It was heading west-northwest at 16 mph.
As the eye of Irma passed over Barbuda around 2 a.m., phone lines went down under heavy rain and howling winds that sent debris flying as people huddled in their homes or government shelters.
The storm tore off rooftops and knocked out all electricity on the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, and France has requisitioned planes and sent in emergency food and water rations.
The regional authority for Guadeloupe and neighboring islands said in a statement Wednesday the fire station in Saint Barthelemy was under more than three feet of water and no rescue vehicles could move. Electricity was also partially down on the larger island of Guadeloupe, where the threat receded despite danger of heavy flooding.
Further east, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the twin-island nation appears to have weathered its brush, saying in a statement that there were no deaths in Antigua.
Preliminary reports also indicate there are no deaths in Barbuda, despite widespread reports of damaged buildings and downed trees. The prime minister says the airport will reopen at 2 p.m.
As Hurricane Irma continued its track west, the storm's most dangerous winds, usually nearest to the eye, were forecast to pass near the northern Virgin Islands and near or just north of Puerto Rico on Wednesday.
Hurricane Irma even forced Pope Francis to change his flight plan late Wednesday morning in order to avoid the storm, as he heads to Colombia to help solidify the South American nation's peace process. He was originally scheduled to fly over Puerto Rico and Venezuela before arriving in Colombia.
The National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma's magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida.
"The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we've ever seen," Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. "A lot of infrastructure won't be able to withstand this kind of force."
Since Tuesday, the island has opened 456 shelters for people living in vulnerable areas, El Nuevo Día newspaper reported.
Rossello said as of Wednesday morning there were about 700 people in shelters, mostly on the island's northeast coast and in Ponce. 
While the impacts of Irma on the U.S. mainland are still to be determined, Florida Gov. Rick Scott activated 1,000 members of the Florida National Guard to be deployed across the state, and 7,000 National Guard members were to report for duty Friday when the storm could be approaching the area.
"The storm is bigger, faster, and stronger than Hurricane Andrew," Scott said Wednesday, referring to the last Category 5 storm to hit the U.S in 1992. He warned Irma may bring "significant storm surge" to the state not seen during Andrew.
On Monday, Scott declared a state of emergency in all of Florida's 67 counties.(Fox News/AP)