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Deaths and destruction as Hurricane Irma powers through

Millions at risk as Category Five storm lashes northern Caribbean islands and heads towards Haiti and Florida.

Hurricane Irma has ploughed past the Dominican Republic towards Haiti after devastating a chain of Caribbean islands and killing at least 10 people.

With winds of around 290 kilometres per hour, the Category Five superstorm is one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century.

On Thursday, it lashed several small islands in the northeast Caribbean, including Barbuda, Saint Martin and the British Virgin Islands, tearing down trees, flattening homes and causing widespread damage.

The eye of the hurricane did not directly hit Puerto Rico, passing north early on Thursday, battering the US territory with high winds and heavy rains.

READ MORE: Irma causes devastation across the Caribbean

Three people were killed, and around two-thirds of the population lost their electricity, Governor Ricardo Rossello said.

Far out in the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose grew into a Category 2 storm, threatening some of the same islands ravaged by Irma. In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia was virtually stationary on Thursday afternoon.

'Barely habitable'

The small island of Barbuda is said to be "barely habitable" after being hit by the storm, leaving about 60 percent of its 1,400-strong population homeless.

"Either they [buildings on the island] were totally demolished, or they would have lost their roof," said Gaston Browne, Antigua and Barbuda prime minister.

Irma has already "battered" 1.2 million people, the Red Cross said on Thursday, warning the storm could upend the lives of as many as 26 million in the coming days.

The eye of the storm was moving west-northwest off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, heading slightly north of Haiti, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned that millions of children could be at risk in the two countries, which share the island of Hispaniola.

Impoverished Haiti has been particularly vulnerable to hurricanes and heavy rains.

Nearly 900 people were killed by Hurricane Matthew last year. 

Mass evacuations

Haiti's government has put the country on alert, closing schools and moving people to shelters.

Ascension Martinez, Save the Children's director of programme quality and advocacy in Haiti, said that health centres and schools had become emergency contact points.

"This hurricane will mean heavy rains and floods for Haiti, where the poorest communities are still suffering from the consequences of the last hurricane to hit the country, just under a year ago," said Martinez.

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