Monday 25 June 2018

Hurricane Irma leaves Barbuda 'totally demolished' as death toll rises to ten

  • Irma on a collision course with Florida
  • Ten people killed as storm raged through Barbuda, Antingua and Saint Martins
  • Barbuda 'literally rubble' and 'totally demolished'
  • Florida evacuations already underway
A man reacts in the winds and rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Luquillo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man reacts in the winds and rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Luquillo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man stands on the beach as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Luquillo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Scott Malone

Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, howled past Puerto Rico on Wednesday after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands with tree-snapping winds, drenching rains and pounding surf on a collision course with Florida.

Weather forecasters have described the hurricane as a "potentially catastrophic" Category 5 storm, the highest US classification for hurricanes.

People pick up debris as Hurricane Irma howled past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People pick up debris as Hurricane Irma howled past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man fishes as Hurricane Irma howled past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
People make their own sandbags to protect in their homes before the arrival of Hurricane Irma in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. Dominicans are getting ready for the arrival of Hurricane Irma after battering Puerto Rico with heavy rain and powerful winds, leaving more than 600,000 people without power as authorities struggle to get aid to small Caribbean islands already devastated by the historic storm.(AP Photo/Tatiana Fernandez)
The heavy rains and wind of hurricane Irma cross through the northeastern part of the island in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. The US territory was first to declare a state of emergency las Monday, as the National Hurricane Center forecast that the storm would strike the Island Wednesday. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
A man drives through rain and strong winds during the passage of hurricane Irma, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. The US territory was first to declare a state of emergency las Monday, as the National Hurricane Center forecast that the storm would strike the Island Wednesday. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
Fallen trees block a street as Hurricane Irma howls past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Members of the civil defense run as Hurricane Irma howls past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A truck drives past fallen trees as Hurricane Irma howls past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man carrying an umbrella walks on a street as Hurricane Irma howls past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Men look out to the sea as Hurricane Irma howled past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
Members of the civil defense ride on a truck as Hurricane Irma howls past Puerto Rico after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Waves crash against the seawall as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man reacts in the winds and rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Luquillo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Waves crash against the seawall as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Palm trees buckle under winds and rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man reacts in the winds and rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Luquillo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Waves battle a stranded ship as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Palm trees buckle under winds and rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Waves break over a dock as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A palm tree buckles under winds and rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Waves break over a dock as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man removes debris from a car following high winds as Hurricane Irma nears San Juan, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017, in this image taken from social media. it
Police patrol the area as Hurricane Irma slams across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A woman crosses the street in the rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A woman runs in the rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Eight people were killed on French Island of Saint Martin according to the French interior minister.

The dual-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda was especially hard hit. The northernmost island, Barbuda, home to roughly 1,800 people, was "totally demolished," with 90 percent of all dwellings there leveled, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said, according to island television broadcasts.

"It is heart-wrenching, absolutely devastating." he said, adding that 95 per cent of buildings on Barbuda had been damaged. 

"I have never seen any such destruction on a per-capita before as I saw when I was in Barbuda this afternoon. 

Waves crash against the seawall as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Waves crash against the seawall as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

"The telecommunications system is totally destroyed, we have seen cell towers snapped in two.”

“Barbuda now is literally rubble," he added.

Browne said one person was confirmed killed on Barbuda. A second storm-related fatality, that of a surfer, was reported on Barbados.

Irma, with top sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (300 km per hour), was on track to reach Florida on Saturday or Sunday, becoming the second major hurricane to hit the US mainland in as many weeks.

While Irma's intensity could fluctuate, and its precise course remained uncertain, the storm was expected to remain at least a Category 4 before arriving in Florida.

Two other hurricanes formed on Wednesday. Katia in the Gulf of Mexico and Hurricane Jose in the open Atlantic, about 1,000 miles (1,610 km) east of the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles islands.

The flurry of severe storm activity comes after Hurricane Harvey claimed about 60 lives and caused property damage estimated as high as $180 billion after pummeling the Gulf Coasts of Texas and Louisiana with torrential rains and severe flooding.

Florida emergency management officials, chastened by Harvey's devastation, began evacuations days in advance of Irma's arrival, ordering all tourists to leave the Florida Keys, a resort archipelago off the state's southern tip, starting Wednesday morning. Evacuation of residents from the Keys was to begin Wednesday evening.

Waves break over a dock as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Waves break over a dock as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

'THE BIG ONE'

Ed Rappaport, acting director of the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center, interviewed on local station WFOR-TV, called Irma a "once-in-a-generation storm," adding that for South Florida, "It's the big one for us."

Florida's normally storm-jaded residents appeared to be taking the warnings seriously, too.

"A lot of times they end up having hurricane parties instead of evacuating," Monroe county spokeswoman Cammy Clark told Reuters by phone. "That's been the opposite this time around."

In Cuba, just 90 miles (145 km) south of the Keys, authorities posted a hurricane alert for the island's central and eastern regions, as residents in Havana, the capital, were seen waiting line lines to stock up on foodstuffs, water and gasoline.

The eye of Irma was passing just north of Puerto Rico late Wednesday, buffeting the US island territory's capital, San Juan, with heavy downpours and strong winds that scattered tree limbs across roadways.

"The winds that we are experiencing right now are like nothing we have experienced before," Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN. "We expect a lot of damage, perhaps not as much as was seen in Barbuda."

At least half of Puerto Rico's homes and businesses lost electricity by nightfall, according to a Twitter message posted by an island utility executive.

Aerial television footage of Barbuda, a tiny island just 250 miles (400 km) east of Puerto Rico, showed a desolate, flooded landscape shorn of trees and foliage, littered with debris and overturned vehicles.

Among the higher-end property losses on the island was the Paradise Found Nobu Resort, partially owned by Hollywood screen star Robert De Niro, according to Stan Rosenfield, a spokesman for the actor.

The Dutch islands of Saba and Sint Eustatius also were hit, with damage believed to be extensive, according to the Netherlands ambassador to the United Nations, Karel van Oosterom.

On its current path the core of Irma, which the NHC said marked the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the five most forceful storms to hit the Atlantic basin in 82 years, was expected to scrape the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday. It was on a track that would put it near the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas by Thursday evening.

TRUMP RESORT IN STORM PATH

US President Donald Trump said he and aides were monitoring Irma's progress. "But it looks like it could be something that will be not good. Believe me, not good," he told reporters.

Trump, whose waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, could take a direct hit from the storm, has already approved emergency declarations for Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, mobilizing federal disaster relief efforts. He spoke with governors of all three by telephone on Wednesday, the White House said.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said Irma could be more devastating than Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that struck the state in 1992 and still ranks as one of the costliest ever in the United States.

Residents in most coastal communities of densely populated Miami-Dade County were ordered to move to higher ground beginning at 9am. ET (1pm GMT) on Thursday, Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced on Wednesday. The evacuation orders will affect more than 100,000 residents, the Miami Herald reported.

Gasoline stations around the state struggled to meet rising demand of motorists anxious to top off their tanks as Irma approached, with some locations running dry on Wednesday.

Scott told a news conference in the Keys that 7,000 National Guard troops would report for duty on Friday, ahead of the storm's expected arrival.

Statewide emergency declarations were issued in both North and South Carolina, and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared an emergency for six coastal counties in anticipation of Irma's arrival.

Reuters

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