Kiwis bracing for the impact of Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean say the approaching storm is like "a very strong Wellington southerly" at the moment, with the strongest winds expected to hit them in a couple of hours.

Kiwi seabird scientist Elizabeth "Biz" Bell is in Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Southeast of Florida and 200km north of the Dominican Republic.

She's with a team of ecologists, including four other Kiwis and 10 Brits, who were evacuated from a small, low-lying island on Wednesday to the larger island in the west of the archipelago.

Bell said the winds were picking up ahead of the hurricane's arrival and the team was hunkered down ready for a long, noisy night.

Advertisement

"We're safely up on a hill in a very secure, strong, concrete house. We're pretty comfortable really, compared to some others.

"At the moment it's a very strong Wellington southerly. It's just blowing trees and things around. It's not that concerning at the moment."

Kiwis Elizabeth Bell, front right in blue, Kelvin Floyd, back in blue, Hamish Chisholm, back in singlet, Tom Goodman back left in cap, and Stephen Wallace in the middle in white. Photo/Elizabeth Bell
Kiwis Elizabeth Bell, front right in blue, Kelvin Floyd, back in blue, Hamish Chisholm, back in singlet, Tom Goodman back left in cap, and Stephen Wallace in the middle in white. Photo/Elizabeth Bell

At least 10 people have died in the Category 5 storm, which has torn through the Caribbean, so far. The hurricane was expected to pass slightly south of Turks and Caicos, but still hit with ferocity.

Bell said Hurricane Irma's winds are expected to pick up in less than three hours and hold intensity throughout the night.

She said the crew are prepared with a generator and food, and expect the power to cut out in the next hour or two.

"[We'll be] playing cards and eating a lot of junk food, I suspect. We have a very big supply of potato crisps and chocolate. We're planning to have dinner, and the hurricane's meant to hit us a bit more full on between 8 o'clock local time and through the night."

Four other Kiwis, including Kelvin Floyd and Hamish Chisholm, are with Bell, as well as 10 Brits working on an ecological project. They're in Providenciales at the Western end of the archipelago.

"Basically the public warnings are you just have to be prepared and stay inside. The hurricane is going to pass slightly south of us, and it's still going to be a Category 5 when it reaches us."

Bell said strong winds and big waves weren't unusual occurrences for the Turks and Caicos. Most buildings in the area were made from concrete blocks with reinforced steel, and locals were well prepared.

"Some locals were more concerned, but some locals said, 'oh, it's just going to be windy and rainy'.

"They've been through this before. They all realise it's reasonably serious, but maybe they're just a bit more organised and prepared really."

She said most businesses and homes were boarded up with sandbags in front of doors and closed today, apart from last minute grocery stores and gas stations.

"It's quite rowdy and it's just going to get noisier. We suspect we're going to be playing a lot of games."

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Matt Torbit said last night 135 New Zealanders were registered on the SafeTravel website as being in the storm's path. None had asked for consular assistance.