Sunday 24 September 2017

State stockpiles 3.2m litres of water and 67 trucks of food

This crane at a building site collapsed on to the street below in Miami. Photo: AP
This crane at a building site collapsed on to the street below in Miami. Photo: AP

Gary Fineout

With the arrival of what is potentially one of the most devastating storms to ever hit Florida, officials have set aside 3.2 million litres of water, filled 67 trucks with meals, and amassed 24,000 tarpaulins. They also have asked the federal government to kick in 11 million meals and millions more litres of water, plus nearly 700 cases of baby supplies.

When it is finally safe for emergency officials to fan out across the peninsula, they will find out whether that is enough.

Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys yesterday morning with top sustained winds of 215kmh. While the projected track showed Irma raking the state's Gulf Coast, forecasters warned that the entire Florida peninsula - including the Miami metropolitan area of six million people - was in extreme danger from the monstrous storm, almost 640km wide. Nearly seven million people in the south-east were warned to get out of the storm's path, including 6.4 million in Florida alone.

A weary Governor Rick Scott, who has flown across the state during the past five days sounding the alarm bell ahead of landfall, acknowledged that it won't be easy for residents in the days ahead. Florida has long dealt with hurricanes, including a stretch of eight hurricanes in two years while Jeb Bush was governor, but Irma's wide reach has proved daunting.

"I don't think anybody alive today in this state has ever seen anything like this," Governor Scott said at the state's emergency operations centre when the first parts of the storm started to cross into the Florida Keys.

More than one million residents had already lost power by yesterday morning, and it could be days before officials can provide food and water to those struggling in the aftermath of the powerful storm.

Florida has already spent $77m (€65m) ahead of Irma's arrival. Governor Scott called up 7,000 National Guardsmen who have been sent across the state, including dispatching them to some of the more than 400 shelters that have been set up.

Meanwhile, search-and-rescue teams located in Orlando and other staging areas were waiting out the storm until it was safe enough to go out and assess the extent of the damage and injuries. One of the teams was preparing to fly into Key West, directly in the path of the storm.

The challenges in the immediate aftermath of the storm will be many: restoring power across the state, removing debris from roads, dealing with possible fuel shortages, and making sure nursing home and hospital patients who were evacuated can safely return.

State officials are also fearful the massive rain that was soaking the state could also lead to flash floods.

Governor Scott said he knew many Floridians wanted to resume their normal lives as soon as possible. But he acknowledged that might not happen soon.

"Florida will get through this," he said. "You've got to be patient."

Irish Independent

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