Nations rush to help islands devastated by huge storm
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.