A week of disasters

La Semana - - FRONT PAGE / PORTADA -


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)

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