Island of St. Eustatius/Island of St Martin - At least ten people have been killed after the “potentially catastrophic” Hurricane Irma - the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded - hit the Caribbean islands.

The Category 5 storm - which has thrashed several islands with tree-snapping winds and drenching rains - left eight people dead after it hit the French Caribbean island territory of Saint Martin, Reuters reported.

A local government official said the death toll was likely to rise in the next few hours, with parts of the island remaining unexplored following the storm.

St Martin’s airport has also been destroyed, while footage from the island shows submerged streets and flooded homes.

Meanwhile, it was confirmed that the hurricane - which sustained winds of up to 185 miles per hour - also killed a person on the island of Barbuda, which was “totally demolished” by the storm.

Gaston Browne, prime minister of the dual-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, said that 90% of all dwellings on the island - which is home to roughly 1,800 people - had been destroyed.

The death of a surfer on Barbados has also been reported, while power has been knocked out on the islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy. France has sent emergency food and water rations to the islands.

The storm has recently passed north of Puerto Rico, knocking out power for much of the island.

The UN has estimated that as many as 37 million people could be affected by the hurricane, the Associated Press reported.

According to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, much of the US territory has been left without power - including 22 hospitals, with power companies reporting it could be four months before it is fully restored.

Forecasters believe Hurricane Irma will reach Florida on Saturday or Sunday, hitting the US just a week after it was struck by Hurricane Harvey, which killed at least 60 people and caused as much as $180 billion of damage.

Irma is expected to remain at least a Category 4 storm - the second strongest storm rating - before arriving in Florida.

It is shaping up to be such a threat that even the experts are upping their warnings, branding it “potentially catastrophic”.

Ed Rappaport, acting director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center, told local TV station WFOR-TV that Irma is a “once-in-a-generation storm”, calling it “the big one for us”.

Evacuations in Florida have already begun ahead of the storm’s arrival, with all tourists ordered to leave the Florida Keys. 

President Donald Trump said his team was monitoring Irma’s progress.

“But it looks like it could be something that will be not good. Believe me, not good,” he told reporters.

According to Reuters, Trump has approved emergency declarations for Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, mobilising federal disaster relief efforts.

Meanwhile, “a lot” of buildings have been destroyed on billionaire Richard Branson’s Necker Island.

Forecasters have called it a ‘once-in-a-generation storm’.