Na­tions rush to help is­lands dev­as­tated by huge storm

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - By Evens Sanon and Dan­ica Coto

French, Bri­tish and Dutch mil­i­tary au­thor­i­ties rushed aid to a dev­as­tated string of Caribbean is­lands Thurs­day af­ter Hurricane Irma left at least 11 peo­ple dead and thou­sands home­less as it spun toward Florida for what could be a cat­a­strophic blow this week­end.

War­ships and planes were dis­patched with food, wa­ter and troops af­ter the fear­some Cat­e­gory 5 storm smashed homes, schools and roads, lay­ing waste to some of the world’s most beau­ti­ful and exclusive tourist des­ti­na­tions.

Hun­dreds of miles to the west, Florida braced for the on­slaught, with fore­cast­ers warn­ing that Irma 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 a half-mil­lion peo­ple in Mi­ami-Dade County were or­dered to leave as Irma closed in with winds of 175 mph.

“Take it se­ri­ously, be­cause this is the real deal,” said Maj. Jeremy DeHart, a U.S. Air Force Re­serve weather of­fi­cer who flew through the eye of Irma at 10,000 feet.

The hurricane was still north of the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and Haiti on Thurs­day evening, sweep­ing the neigh­bor­ing na­tions on His­pan­iola island with high winds and rain while bat­ter­ing the Turks and Caico is­lands on its other side.

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. How­ever, Haiti’s de­for­ested hill­sides are prone to mud­slides.

“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.

About 1 mil­lion peo­ple were with­out power in Puerto Rico af­ter Irma sideswiped the island overnight, and nearly half the ter­rito- ry’s hos­pi­tals were re­ly­ing on gen­er­a­tors. No in­juries were re­ported.

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

French Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe said four peo­ple were con­firmed dead and about 50 in­jured on the French side of St. Martin, split be­tween Dutch and French con­trol.

At least four peo­ple were killed in the U.S. 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, in­de­pen­dent Bar­buda and the Dutch side of St. Martin.

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

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.

Source: Na­tional Weather Ser­vice AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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