A week of disasters
Last week brought a series of natural disasters to Mexico, the Caribbean, and the United States, with two hurricanes and a major earthquake killing more than 130 and leaving thousands homeless. Hurricane Irma quickly reached deadly category 5 status, and on September 6 struck the US Virgin Islands, where it caused what was described as “absolute devastation,” and Puerto Rico, where even though a direct hit was avoided, power was knocked out for millions of people, possibly for months.
One of the largest hurricanes ever recorded, Irma’s deadly path across the Caribbean left at least 34 dead, including 10 in Cuba, mostly in Havana, where the Cuban government reported “unprecedented flooding.”
Meanwhile in southern Mexico, residents were bracing for Hurricane Katia as it moved towards the eastern gulf coast when an 8.1 magnitude earthquake centered off the country’s pacific coast 60 miles from Mapastepec, Chiapas struck shortly before midnight on Sept. 7.
The largest earthquake to hit Mexico in a century killed at least 96 people, mostly in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, with deaths also reported in Tabasco. Making matters worse, a series of at least nine more quakes ranging in magnitude from 5.3 to 5.7 continued to shake the affected area.
The earthquake forced the Mexican government to recall aid workers it had sent to give assistance to victims of Hurricane Harvey in the United States so it could provide for the needs of its own citizens.
Katia made landfall in Tecolutla, Mexico, less than half an hour before Irma hit Cuba on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico. A category 1 hurricane when it struck land, Katia proved far less deadly than its counterpart to the west.
Fearing the worst from Irma, the state of Florida undertook an unprecedented mandatory evacuation of more than 6 million people, jamming northbound interstates and leaving Miami a virtual ghost town. The Florida Keys took the brunt of Irma’s wrath in the US, with roughly a fourth of the homes there completely destroyed. Further to the north in Miami, the worst of the storm was avoided, but wind and flood damage still proved severe.
“I’ve lost everything,” was a phrase heard time and again, mostly from those living in the city’s poorer and lower lying areas.
Irma finally weakened on Saturday and Sunday, but continued to threaten cities as far north as Nashville and Atlanta with heavy rains, strong wind gusts, and flooding. At least 12 people were killed in Florida and two more in Georgia.
Those who heeded the call to evacuate now face the daunting task of finding a way home, as flights are full and not all roads have reopened. Power has been restored to millions of residents, but it is not known how long it will take for all utilities to be fully functional. Broken water mains mean tap water must be boiled before drinking, and bottled water remains in short supply throughout southern Florida.
If there is any good news in this extraordinary hurricane season, it is that Hurricane Jose, still lingering in the Caribbean, has now weakened to a category 1. (La Semana)