A French official said at least two people have been killed by Hurricane Irma in French Caribbean territories, Reuters and the New York Times reported Wednesday.
“We’re talking about two dead and two seriously injured for now. Obviously, the situation can change very quickly,” said Annick Girardin, France’s overseas territories minister, Reuters reported.
The Times reported that French President Emmanuel Macron said that it was too early to say how badly the damage is on the islands of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy. But the aftermath would be “harsh and cruel,” he said.
The 28 island nations that make up the Caribbean are accustomed to hurricane season, but the Category 5 storm bearing down on these popular vacation spots has plenty of residents worried.
Travel and tourism contributed $56 billion to the total gross domestic product in the Caribbean last year — about 15% of the region’s total GDP, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, CNN reported.
“This is a very important economic activity for the region,” Gloria Guevara, the president and CEO of the tourism council, told CNN. “Something like a hurricane, of course, can have a very significant impact.”
Emergency authorities say people on some of the most at-risk islands have been leaving the area by plane, while others are riding out the storm inside hotels or other shelters built to withstand storms.