Hurricane Irma wreaks 'absolute devastation' on Caribbean isle of Barbuda

MEXICO CITY, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Hurricane Irma left a trail of "absolute devastation" as it tore across the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda on Wednesday with 185-mile-per-hour (295-kph) winds, destroying houses, snapping trees and killing at least one person.

Gaston Browne, the prime minister of the two-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, described the island as "barely habitable" after the powerful Category 5 storm struck early on Wednesday.

"This rebuilding initiative will take years," Browne told local ABS Television Radio after a visit to the island, where he confirmed that one person died in the storm.

Describing the scene as "absolute devastation," he said the storm, which also snapped a telecoms tower, had caused estimated damage of some $150 million.

Lying a little over 250 miles (400 km) east of Puerto Rico, Barbuda has a population of 1,800 and is one of the Caribbean's quietest getaways for tourists coming to enjoy its turquoise seas and coral reefs.

Aerial footage of the island after Irma had passed through showed a desolate, flooded landscape shorn of trees and foliage with overturned vehicles and scattered debris.

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YEMASSEE, SC - SEPTEMBER 08: Northbound lanes of I-95 near the Georgia-South Carolina border are empty as northbound lanes are packed as pepole evacuate ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma September 8, 2017 in Yemassee, South Carolina. Florida appears to be in the path of the hurricane which may come ashore at category 4. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 05: Stan Glass, of St. Petersburg, fills four 5-gallon fuel tanks with gasoline for his boat should he have to evacuate by boat as residents in the area prepare ahead of Hurricane Irma on September 05, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has reported that Hurricane Irma has strengthened to a Category 5 storm as it crosses into the Caribbean and is expected to move on towards Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
A woman looks at empty shelves that are normally filled with bottles of water after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People buy materials at a hardware store after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
As Hurrcane Irma approaches Florida September 8, 2017 shoppers in Port St. John, near Kennedy Space Center, find almost empty shelves. Warning that Irma would be worse than Hurricane Andrew, which killed 65 people in 1992, Florida's governor said all of the state's 20.6 million inhabitants should be prepared to evacuate. / AFP PHOTO / BRUCE WEAVER (Photo credit should read BRUCE WEAVER/AFP/Getty Images)
People buy materials at a hardware store after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Workers put boats on dry docks in preparation, as Hurricane Irma, barreling towards the Caribbean and the southern United States, was upgraded to a Category 4 storm, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Customers walk near empty shelves that are normally filled with bottles of water after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People buy materials at a hardware store after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People buy material at a hardware store after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Workers put boats on dry docks in preparation, as Hurricane Irma, barreling towards the Caribbean and the southern United States, was upgraded to a Category 4 storm, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Hurricane Irma, a record Category 5 storm, churns across the Atlantic Ocean on a collision course with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, is shown in this NASA GOES satellite image taken at 1715 EDT (2215 GMT) on September 5, 2017. Courtesy NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
Members of the Civil Defense prepare their gear ahead of Hurricane Irma, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
A member of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) monitors the trajectory of Hurricane Irma in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
A member of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) monitors the trajectory of Hurricane Irma in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
Shoppers in a Home Depot store wait for plywood in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida, September 5, 2017. Residents are preparing for the approach of Hurricane Irma. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
Men cover the windows of a auto parts store in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man uses a cable to secure the roof of his home in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Men cover the window of a house in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Empty boxes of produce at Costco as customers purchased all the product on September 5, 2017 in Miami. The monster hurricane coming on the heels of Harvey, which struck Texas and Louisiana late last month, is expected to hit a string of Caribbean islands including Guadeloupe late Tuesday before heading to Haiti and Florida. The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Irma had strengthened to the most powerful Category Five, packing winds of 180 miles (280 kilometers) per hour. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Shoppers at Costco buying essentials in preparation for Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017 in North Miami. The monster hurricane coming on the heels of Harvey, which struck Texas and Louisiana late last month, is expected to hit a string of Caribbean islands including Guadeloupe late Tuesday before heading to Haiti and Florida. The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Irma had strengthened to the most powerful Category Five, packing winds of 180 miles (280 kilometers) per hour. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Costco ran out of water as people shop to prepare for Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017 in North Miami. The monster hurricane coming on the heels of Harvey, which struck Texas and Louisiana late last month, is expected to hit a string of Caribbean islands including Guadeloupe late Tuesday before heading to Haiti and Florida. The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Irma had strengthened to the most powerful Category Five, packing winds of 180 miles (280 kilometers) per hour. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Very long checkout lines at Costco as some people waited up to 8 hours to check in, shop and leave in preparation for Hurricane Irma on September 5, 2017 in North Miami. The monster hurricane coming on the heels of Harvey, which struck Texas and Louisiana late last month, is expected to hit a string of Caribbean islands including Guadeloupe late Tuesday before heading to Haiti and Florida. The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Irma had strengthened to the most powerful Category Five, packing winds of 180 miles (280 kilometers) per hour. / AFP PHOTO / Michele Eve Sandberg (Photo credit should read MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman takes a photo of a boarded up business in advance of Hurricane Irma's expected arrival in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
YEMASSEE, SC - SEPTEMBER 08: Northbound lanes of I-95 near the Georgia-South Carolina border are empty as northbound lanes are packed as pepole evacuate ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma September 8, 2017 in Yemassee, South Carolina. Florida appears to be in the path of the hurricane which may come ashore at category 4. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
As Hurrcane Irma approaches Florida September 8, 2017 residents of Titusville, near Kennedy Space Center, have arleady exhausted the lumber yards of plywood used to board up windows. Irma is expected to arrive in the area Sunday afternoon, September 10th. Warning that Irma would be worse than Hurricane Andrew, which killed 65 people in 1992, Florida's governor said all of the state's 20.6 million inhabitants should be prepared to evacuate. / AFP PHOTO / BRUCE WEAVER (Photo credit should read BRUCE WEAVER/AFP/Getty Images)
As Hurrcane Irma approaches Florida September 8, 2017 residents of Titusville, near Kennedy Space Center, have stop for last minute items and fuel. Gas prices had already been raised because of Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas, making gasoline cost more per gallon than diesel fuel. Warning that Irma would be worse than Hurricane Andrew, which killed 65 people in 1992, Florida's governor said all of the state's 20.6 million inhabitants should be prepared to evacuate. / AFP PHOTO / BRUCE WEAVER (Photo credit should read BRUCE WEAVER/AFP/Getty Images)
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An island resident who identified himself as King Goldilocks, 60, said he had been left homeless.

"Last night was the worst night of my life," Goldilocks said on ABS, wearing a raincoat and clutching a cane. "We had minimal loss of life but we had maximum damage."

Browne, who said earlier the damage had not been serious on Barbuda, about 30 miles (48 km) from Antigua, changed his mind after taking a helicopter to the island once the winds died down.

He said Barbudan residents should be evacuated if a second hurricane, Jose, turns toward the islands later this week. Jose is forecast to become a major storm and pass close to Antigua and Barbuda on Saturday.

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel in Mexico City; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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