Sunday 24 September 2017

Caribbean counts cost as Irma aims for Florida

Storm leaves at least 10 dead in devastating path through islands

A scene of devastation in Orient Bay on the French Carribean island of Saint Martin after the passage of Hurricane Irma. Photo: Reuters.
A scene of devastation in Orient Bay on the French Carribean island of Saint Martin after the passage of Hurricane Irma. Photo: Reuters.

Makini Brice

Hurricane Irma raged off the shore of Haiti last night after devastating a string of Caribbean islands and killing at least 10 people, as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century took aim at the Turks and Caicos islands and Florida.

Hurricane Irma raged off the shore of Haiti last night after devastating a string of Caribbean islands and killing at least 10 people, as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century took aim at the Turks and Caicos islands and Florida.

With winds of around 290kph, the storm has smashed through several small islands in the northeast Caribbean in recent days, including Barbuda, Saint Martin and the British and US Virgin Islands, ripping down trees and flattening homes and hospitals.

Winds dipped slightly yesterday to 280kph as the storm lashed the northern coast of the Dominican Republic but it remained an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm, according to the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC).

Irma is expected to hit Florida as a very powerful Category 4 on Sunday, with storm surges and flooding beginning within the next 48 hours.

"The amount of wind that's coming in, we don't think we've seen anything quite like this," US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House after declaring a major disaster in the US Virgin Islands.

Damage in Marigot, near the Bay of Nettle, on Saint Martin. Photo: Getty
Damage in Marigot, near the Bay of Nettle, on Saint Martin. Photo: Getty

"To the people of Florida, we just want you to protect yourselves, be very, very vigilant and careful," said Mr Trump, who owns the waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

Florida emergency management officials began evacuations, ordering tourists to leave the Keys. Petrol shortages in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area worsened yesterday, with sales up to five times the norm.

A mandatory evacuation on Georgia's Atlantic coast was due to begin tomorrow, Governor Nathan Deal said.

Across the Caribbean, authorities rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of residents and tourists in the path of the storm, while on islands in its wake, shocked locals tried to comprehend the extent of the devastation.

Hurricane Irma is seen approaching Puerto Rico in this satellite
image captured on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
Hurricane Irma is seen approaching Puerto Rico in this satellite image captured on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

In the US Virgin islands, a major hospital was obliterated by the wind and Barbuda, where one person died, was reduced "to rubble", according to prime minister Gaston Browne.

In the British overseas territory of Anguilla, another person was killed, while the hospital and airport, power and phone service were damaged, emergency service officials said.

Shock

French prime minister Edouard Philippe said four bodies were recovered on the tiny French-Dutch island of Saint Martin, which was hit hard. Earlier, in the confusion surrounding Irma, France's interior minister had said eight people had b killed and nearly two dozen injured.

"It is an enormous disaster, 95pc of the island is destroyed. I am in shock," Daniel Gibbs, chairman of a local council on Saint Martin, told Radio Caribbean International.

Television footage from the island showed a damaged marina with boats tossed into piles, submerged streets and flooded homes. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with British Prime Minister Theresa May last night to co-ordinate an emergency humanitarian response.

Three people were killed in Puerto Rico and around two-thirds of the population lost their electricity, Governor Ricardo Rossello said after the storm passed by the US territory's northern coast. A surfer was also reported killed in Barbados.

The storm passed just to the north of the Hispaniola island shared by Dominican Republic and Haiti, causing some damage to roofs and flooding as it approached the impoverished Haitian side of the island, which is particularly vulnerable to hurricanes and rain, although it was not forecast to make landfall.

While the strongest winds should not hit Haiti, authorities and aid agencies were bracing for heavy rainfall from the storm just 145 km north of the coast, which could cause landslides and flooding.

The first bands of rain and wind began to lash Haiti's normally bustling northern port city of Cap-Haitien yesterday.

"We're asking all those living in areas at risk to leave their homes. If you don't, you'll be evacuated by force," president Jovenel Moise said. "When you go to shelters, you'll find food, you'll have something to sleep on." The UN Children's Fund warned that millions of children could be at risk in those two countries.

Irish Independent

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