Florid­i­ans scram­ble for safety as Irma closes in

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

FORT MY­ERS, Fla (Reuters) - Hur­ri­cane Irma turned its men­ac­ing sight to­ward the Florida Keys on Satur­day as it com­pleted a de­struc­tive march along Cuba’s north­ern coast and set off an 11th hour scram­ble for safety by Amer­i­cans who may have ig­nored warn­ings to evac­u­ate.

Irma, one of the fiercest At­lantic storms in a cen­tury, was ex­pected to rip through Florida’s south­ern archipelago on Sun­day morn­ing. It will make land­fall on the Florida penin­sula some­where west of Mi­ami and then head up the state’s west coast, by Tampa, fore­cast­ers said.

Irma, which has killed at least 22 peo­ple in the Caribbean, was likely to in­flict bil­lions of dol­lars in dam­age in the third largest US state by pop­u­la­tion.

On Florida’s west coast, Charley Ball said he ex­pected a storm surge to en­gulf the en­tire is­land of Sani­bel, an af­flu­ent com­mu­nity where he lives and op­er­ates a paint­ing com­pany.

“Just left the is­land and said good­bye to ev­ery­thing I own,” the 62-year-old Ball said.

The storm could bring winds in ex­cess of 130 mph (209 kph) and a storm surge up to 15 feet (4.6 me­ters), which is ex­pected to trig­ger flood­ing.

Irma, lo­cated about 115 miles (185 km) south­east of Key West on Satur­day af­ter­noon, was a Cat­e­gory 5 storm, the high­est rank­ing pos­si­ble, when it crashed into Cuba dur­ing the morn­ing. It grad­u­ally weak­ened to a Cat­e­gory 3 storm as it bumped along the is­land’s north­ern coast­line, flood­ing streets and send­ing waves crash­ing over sea walls.

Max­i­mum sus­tained winds stayed at around 125 mph (201 kph), the US Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter (NHC) said.

Irma is ex­pected to re­gain strength as it steams over warm wa­ters south of Florida, ac­cord­ing to the NHC. It was likely to re­gain Cat­e­gory 4 sta­tus be­fore strik­ing Florida, said NHC spokesman Den­nis Felt­gen.

The wide reach of Irma’s deadly winds and its size, more than its nu­mer­i­cal rank­ing, has rat­tled vet­eran hur­ri­cane watch­ers. It could ri­val any storm in Florida’s his­tory, Gov­er­nor Rick Scott said. (Reuters)

Irma will dump 10 inches to 20 inches (25 cm to 51 cm) of rain over Florida and south­east Ge­or­gia from Satur­day through Mon­day, the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said, a frac­tion of what Hur­ri­cane Har­vey dropped on Texas and Louisiana last month.

But un­like with Har­vey, dan­ger­ous winds will barely abate once Irma makes land­fall on Sun­day morn­ing.

A long line of peo­ple in Es­tero, Florida lined up to enter an arena that of­fi­cials con­verted into an evac­u­a­tion shel­ter, one of hun­dreds that have opened up across the state.

An­drea Prather, a singer from the Gulf Coast city of Fort My­ers, said she was con­fi­dent that she would stay safe on the 25th floor of her high-rise build­ing.

She closely fol­lowed re­ports about the storm’s path as it headed to­ward her town.

“When it made that turn, that’s when I had that anx­i­ety pit in my stom­ach. I was like, ‘OK this is not good,’” she said.

In Cuba, the de­struc­tion along the north cen­tral coast was sim­i­lar to that seen on other Caribbean is­lands over the last week as Irma plowed into Ciego de Avila prov­ince.

In the storm’s af­ter­math, peo­ple walked through an­kle-deep wa­ter in Caibarien, a Cuban fish­ing town where streets were flooded and cov­ered in sea­weed. Else­where, winds top­pled trees and util­ity polls or ripped apart roofs.

“It was pow­er­ful, wa­ter rose to about one meter high,” said Risle Echemen­dia, 28, in Caibarien as he swept muddy wa­ter out of his front door. “This was the strong­est storm Caibarien ever had. It will take a while to re­cover from this, at least a few years.”

It was the first time the eye of a Cat­e­gory 5 storm had made land­fall in Cuba since 1932, state me­dia said, and the is­land’s Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment or­dered the evac­u­a­tion of more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple, with most shel­ter­ing with fam­ily and friends.

Third of Florida

Of­fi­cials in Florida have or­dered a to­tal of 6.3 mil­lion peo­ple, (Reuters) or about a third of the state’s pop­u­la­tion, to evac­u­ate, cre­at­ing mas­sive traf­fic jams on high­ways and bring­ing huge crowds to shel­ters.

In Palm Beach, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s water­front Mara-Lago es­tate was un­der evac­u­a­tion or­der. Trump and his cabi­net were at Camp David in Mary­land, re­ceiv­ing up­dates on the storm.

Irma was al­ready whip­ping south Florida with winds on Satur­day, and the gov­er­nor said thou­sands of peo­ple were with­out power.

About 9 mil­lion peo­ple in Florida may lose power, some for weeks, said Florida Power & Light Co, which serves al­most (REUTERS/Carlo Al­le­gri) half of the state’s 20.6 mil­lion res­i­dents.

The win­dow for peo­ple in evac­u­a­tion zones to flee was draw­ing to a close on Satur­day, of­fi­cials said, warn­ing that gas sta­tions would soon be with­out fuel and bridges would be closed in some ar­eas.

“You can’t play chicken with this thing or try to out­run the storm,” US Se­na­tor Marco Ru­bio of Florida said at a news con­fer­ence.

Ru­bio ac­knowl­edged some peo­ple had fled their homes only to ar­rive in ar­eas ex­pected to be in the storm’s path, but he ad­vised peo­ple in that sit­u­a­tion to hun­ker down.

That was the case for Chris (Reuters) Car­dona, 54, and his wife Lau­rie, who left their mo­bile home near Mi­ami on Thurs­day to seek refuge with friends near Tampa.

“Not only did we go west, but so did Irma. She’s track­ing us, that feisty minx,” Car­dona said by phone.

Hur­ri­cane Irma could cause in­surance losses of be­tween $15 bil­lion and $50 bil­lion in the United States, catas­tro­phe mod­el­ling firm AIR World­wide said.

Irma was set to hit the United States two weeks after Hur­ri­cane Har­vey struck Texas as a Cat­e­gory 4 storm, killing about 60 peo­ple and caus­ing prop­erty dam­age es­ti­mated at up to $180 bil­lion in Texas and Louisiana.

Hur­ri­cane Irma up­rooted trees and tore off roofs in Cuba on Satur­day with 125-mile-per-hour (200-km per hour) winds

Peo­ple play in the wa­ter at the beach yes­ter­day ahead of Hur­ri­cane Irma’s ex­pected ar­rival in Fort Laud­erdale, Florida, US

Empty shelves at a Florida su­per­mar­ket yes­ter­day after res­i­dents stocked up

Florid­i­ans scram­ble for flights as Irma closes in

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