Irma bat­ters more is­lands on way to Florida

Storm could prove costli­est in US his­tory

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

CAIBARIEN: Hur­ri­cane Irma bat­tered the Turks and Caicos Is­lands yes­ter­day and Cuba evac­u­ated tourists from beach­side re­sorts as the fear­some storm con­tin­ued a rampage through the Caribbean that has killed at least 11 peo­ple.

Waves as high as 6 me­ters were ex­pected in the Turks and Caicos. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions went down as the storm slammed into the is­lands, and the ex­tent of the dev­as­ta­tion was un­clear.

The first hur­ri­cane warn­ings were is­sued for south­ern Florida as the state braced for what could be a cat­a­strophic hit. Fol­low­ing in Irma’s wake was Hur­ri­cane Jose, with some of the is­lands hit hardest by Irma in its ex­pected path.

Irma weak­ened from a Cat­e­gory 5 storm to Cat­e­gory 4 yes­ter­day morn­ing with max­i­mum sus­tained winds near 250kph, but it re­mained a pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane.

Irma rolled past the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and Haiti on Thurs­day and spun along the north­ern coast of Cuba yes­ter­day morn­ing. Thou­sands of tourists were evac­u­ated from low-ly­ing keys off the Cuban coast on Thurs­day in an­tic­i­pa­tion of storm surges. Buses loaded with tourists be­gan stream­ing out of Santa Maria, Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and other keys dot­ted with allinclu­sive re­sorts.

All res­i­dents of the area were un­der manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders from the Cuban gov­ern­ment, which was mov­ing tens of thou­sands of peo­ple from vul­ner­a­ble coast­line.

French, Bri­tish and Dutch mil­i­tary au­thor­i­ties rushed aid to a dev­as­tated string of Caribbean is­lands where at least 11 peo­ple were dead and thou­sands home­less. War­ships and planes were sent with food, wa­ter and troops af­ter the hur­ri­cane smashed homes, schools and roads, lay­ing waste to some of the world’s most beau­ti­ful and ex­clu­sive tourist des­ti­na­tions.

The first is­lands hit by the storm were scenes of ter­ri­ble de­struc­tion.

French Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe said Thurs­day that four peo­ple were con­firmed dead and about 50 in­jured on the French side of St Martin, an is­land split be­tween Dutch and French con­trol, where homes were splin­tered and road signs scat­tered by the fierce winds. The cafes and cloth­ing shops of the pic­turesque sea­side vil­lage of Marigot were sub­merged in brown flood­wa­ters.

At least four peo­ple were killed in the US Vir­gin Is­lands, and of­fi­cials said they ex­pected to find more bod­ies. Au­thor­i­ties de­scribed the dam­age as cat­a­strophic and said crews were strug­gling to re­open roads and re­store power.

Three more deaths were re­ported on the Bri­tish is­land of An­guilla, as well as Bar­buda and the Dutch side of St Martin.

The hospi­tal on St Thomas was de­stroyed and dozens of pa­tients were be­ing evac­u­ated to St Croix and Puerto Rico by the US Coast Guard. Lo­cal of­fi­cials said a US Navy hospi­tal ship was en route to care for un­known num­bers of in­jured and two Air Force C-130s trans­port planes were bring­ing in food and wa­ter.

Power lines and tow­ers were top­pled, leaves were stripped off plants and trees, a wa­ter and sewage treat­ment plants was heav­ily dam­aged and the har­bor was in ru­ins, along with hun­dreds of homes and dozens of busi­nesses. Gov­er­nor Ken­neth Mapp im­posed a 6pm cur­few.

The pri­mary fo­cus for now is “mak­ing sure peo­ple have meals, wa­ter and shel­ter”, Mr Mapp said. “An event of this mag­ni­tude is very chill­ing.”

Irma also slammed the French is­land of St Barts, tear­ing off roofs and knock­ing out elec­tric­ity.

French In­te­rior Min­is­ter Ger­ard Col­lomb said 100,000 food ra­tions were sent to St Barts and St Martin, the equiv­a­lent of four days of sup­plies.

Dutch Prime Min­is­ter Mark Rutte said the storm “caused wide-scale de­struc­tion of in­fra­struc­ture, houses and busi­nesses”.

“There is no power, no gaso­line, no run­ning wa­ter. Houses are un­der wa­ter, cars are float­ing through the streets, in­hab­i­tants are sit­ting in the dark in ru­ined houses and are cut off from the out­side world,” he said.

Big waves smashed a dozen homes into rub­ble in the Do­mini­can fish­ing com­mu­nity of Nagua, but work crews said all the res­i­dents had left be­fore the storm. Of­fi­cials said 11,200 peo­ple in all had evac­u­ated vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas, while 55,000 sol­diers had been de­ployed to help the cleanup.

In Haiti, two peo­ple were in­jured by a fall­ing tree, a na­tional road­way was blocked by de­bris and roofs were torn from houses along the north­ern coast but there were no im­me­di­ate re­ports of deaths. Of­fi­cials warned that could change as Irma con­tin­ued to lash Haiti, where de­for­ested hill­sides are prone to dev­as­tat­ing mud­slides that have wiped out en­tire neigh­bor­hoods of pre­car­i­ously built homes in flood zones.

“We are vul­ner­a­ble. We don’t have any equip­ment to help the pop­u­la­tion,” Jo­sue Alusma, mayor of the north­ern city of Port de Paix, said on Ra­dio Zenith FM.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s of­fice said he would go to the is­lands as soon as the weather per­mits it.

On Bar­buda, nearly ev­ery build­ing was dam­aged when the hur­ri­cane’s core crossed al­most di­rectly over the is­land early on Wed­nes­day. About 60% of its roughly 1,400 res­i­dents were left home­less, An­tigua and Bar­buda Prime Min­is­ter Gas­ton Browne said.

Hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres to the west, Florida pre­pared for Irma’s wrath, with fore­cast­ers warn­ing the storm could slam head­long into the Miami met­ro­pol­i­tan area of 6 mil­lion peo­ple, pun­ish the en­tire length of the state’s At­lantic coast and move into Ge­or­gia and South Carolina.

More than half a mil­lion peo­ple in Miami-Dade County were or­dered to leave as Irma closed in.

Brian McNoldy, a hur­ri­cane re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Miami, said Irma could eas­ily prove to be the costli­est storm in US his­tory.

“Take it se­ri­ously, be­cause this is the real deal,” said Maj Jeremy DeHart, a US Air Force Re­serve weather of­fi­cer.

Farther out in the At­lantic, Hur­ri­cane Jose strength­ened into a Cat­e­gory 3 storm with 195kph winds and posed a po­ten­tial threat for to­day to some of the same is­lands rav­aged by Irma.

Irma, the most po­tent At­lantic Ocean hur­ri­cane ever recorded, ap­pears in­creas­ingly likely to rip into heav­ily pop­u­lated South Florida to­mor­row af­ter sweep­ing Cuba’s north­ern coast to­day.

EPA

Swells pound a re­sort on St Maarten on Thurs­day as Hur­ri­cane Irma ram­paged across the Caribbean.

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