Irma hits Caribbean

The News (New Glasgow) - - FRONT PAGE -

Hur­ri­cane Irma roared into the Caribbean on Wed­nes­day with record force, its 185-mile-per-hour winds shak­ing homes and flood­ing build­ings.

Hur­ri­cane Irma roared into the Caribbean with record force Wed­nes­day, its 185-mile-per­hour winds shak­ing homes and flood­ing build­ings on a chain of small is­lands along a path toward Puerto Rico, Cuba and His­pan­iola and a pos­si­ble di­rect hit on densely pop­u­lated South Florida.

The strong­est At­lantic Ocean hur­ri­cane ever recorded passed al­most di­rectly over the is­land of Bar­buda, caus­ing wide­spread flood­ing and down­ing trees. France sent emer­gency food and wa­ter ra­tions to the French is­lands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, where Irma ripped off roofs and knocked out all elec­tric­ity.

The re­gional au­thor­ity for Guade­loupe and neigh­bour­ing is­lands said the fire sta­tion in Saint Barthelemy was flooded by more than one me­tre of wa­ter and no res­cue ve­hi­cles could move. The gov­ern­ment head­quar­ters on Saint Martin was par­tially de­stroyed.

There were no im­me­di­ate re­ports of ca­su­al­ties but the min­is­ter for French over­seas ter­ri­to­ries, An­nick Gi­rardin, said “We have a lot to fear for a cer­tain num­ber of our com­pa­tri­ots who un­for­tu­nately didn’t want to lis­ten to the pro­tec­tion mea­sures and go to more se­cure sites ... We’re pre­par­ing for the worst.”

An­tigua and Bar­buda Prime Min­is­ter Gas­ton Browne said the twin-is­land na­tion ap­pears to have weath­ered its brush with Hur­ri­cane Irma with no deaths, though he noted that the gov­ern­ment had only done a pre­lim­i­nary as­sess­ment of Bar­buda. There were wide­spread re­ports of prop­erty dam­age but he says the pub­lic and gov­ern­ment had pre­pared well for the storm.

“We in An­tigua have weath­ered the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane ever to storm its way through the Caribbean,” the prime min­is­ter said. “And we have done so with stun­ning re­sults.”

Hur­ri­cane Irma had max­i­mum winds of 295 kilo­me­tres per hour and was pro­duc­ing dan­ger­ous storm surge and heavy rain. The cen­tre of the storm was about 110 kilo­me­tres east-south­east of St. Thomas in the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands and about 225 kilo­me­tres east of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was head­ing west-north­west at 26 kph.

As the eye of Hur­ri­cane Irma passed over Bar­buda, phone lines went down un­der heavy rain and howl­ing winds that sent de­bris fly­ing as peo­ple hud­dled in their homes or gov­ern­ment shel­ters.

The storm ripped the roof off the is­land’s po­lice sta­tion, forc­ing of­fi­cers to seek refuge in the fire sta­tion and at the com­mu­nity cen­tre that served as an of­fi­cial shel­ter. The Cat­e­gory 5 storm also knocked out com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween is­lands.

The U.S. Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Center said Irma’s winds would fluc­tu­ate but the storm would likely re­main at Cat­e­gory 4 or 5 strength for the next day or two. The most dan­ger­ous winds, usu­ally near­est to the eye, were fore­cast to pass near the north­ern Vir­gin Is­lands and near or just north of Puerto Rico on Wed­nes­day.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­clared emer­gen­cies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands, and au­thor­i­ties in the Ba­hamas said they would evac­u­ate six south­ern is­lands.

Warm wa­ter is fuel for hur­ri­canes and Irma was mov­ing over wa­ter that was 1 de­gree Cel­sius warmer than nor­mal. The 26 Cel­sius wa­ter that hur­ri­canes need went about 80 me­tres deep, said Jeff Masters, me­te­o­rol­ogy di­rec­tor of the pri­vate fore­cast­ing ser­vice Weather Un­der­ground.

Four other storms have had winds as strong in the over­all At­lantic re­gion, but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mex­ico, which usu­ally have warmer wa­ters. Hur­ri­cane Allen hit 190 mph in 1980, while 2005’s Wilma, 1988’s Gil­bert and a 1935 great Florida Keys storm all had 185 mph winds.

The north­ern Lee­ward Is­lands were ex­pected to see nor­mal tide lev­els rise by as much as 3.3 me­tres, while the Turks and Caicos Is­lands and south­east­ern Ba­hamas could see surge of 20 feet (6 me­tres) and higher waves later in the week, fore­cast­ers said.

Ba­hamas Prime Min­is­ter Hu­bert Min­nis said his gov­ern­ment was evac­u­at­ing six is­lands in the south be­cause au­thor­i­ties would not be able to help any­one caught in the “po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic” wind, flood­ing and storm surge. Peo­ple there would be flown to Nas­sau in what he called the largest storm evac­u­a­tion in the coun­try’s his­tory.

“The price you may pay for not evac­u­at­ing is your life or se­ri­ous phys­i­cal harm,” Min­nis said.

The U.S. Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said Puerto Rico had not seen a hur­ri­cane of Irma’s mag­ni­tude since Hur­ri­cane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a to­tal of 2,748 peo­ple in Guade­loupe, Puerto Rico and Florida.

“The dan­ger­ous­ness of this event is like noth­ing we’ve ever seen,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Ros­sello said. “A lot of in­fra­struc­ture won’t be able to with­stand this kind of force.”

The eye of the storm was ex­pected to rip west­ward on a path tak­ing it a lit­tle north of Puerto Rico, the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, Haiti and Cuba.

The north­ern parts of the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and Haiti could see 25 cen­time­tres of rain, with as much as 50 cen­time­tres in the south­east Ba­hamas and Turks and Caicos.

The storm seems al­most cer­tain to hit the United States by early next week.

NOAA VIA AP

In this im­age re­leased by the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Hur­ri­cane Irma ap­proaches An­guilla on Wed­nes­day. The most pow­er­ful At­lantic Ocean hur­ri­cane in recorded his­tory has roared into the Caribbean, its winds rip­ping off roofs and knock­ing out phones.

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