Dev­as­ta­tion un­clear

As Irma spins, Cuba evac­u­ates, Florid­i­ans empty stores

Truro Daily News - - WORLD -

Cuba evac­u­ated tourists from beach­side re­sorts and Florid­i­ans emp­tied stores of ply­wood and bot­tled water after Hur­ri­cane Irma left at least 20 peo­ple dead and thou­sands home­less on a dev­as­tated string of Caribbean is­lands and spun to­ward Florida for what could be a cat­a­strophic blow this weekend.

The hur­ri­cane rolled past the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and Haiti and bat­tered the Turks and Caicos Is­lands early Fri­day with waves as high as six me­tres. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions went down as the storm slammed into the is­lands, and the ex­tent of the dev­as­ta­tion was un­clear.

Irma also spun along the north­ern coast of Cuba, where thou­sands of tourists were evac­u­ated from low-ly­ing keys off the coast dot­ted with all-in­clu­sive 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.

War­ships and planes were dis­patched with food, water and troops after Irma smashed homes, schools and roads, lay­ing waste to some of the world’s most beau­ti­ful and exclusive tourist des­ti­na­tions. On the is­land of St. Thomas, power lines and tow­ers were top­pled, leaves were stripped off plants and trees, a water and sewage treat­ment plant was heav­ily dam­aged and the har­bour was in ruins, along with hun­dreds of homes and dozens of busi­nesses.

Thou­sands of tourists were trapped on St. Martin, St. Barts, and the Vir­gin Is­lands in the path of Cat­e­gory 3 Hur­ri­cane Jose, which threat­ened to roll in from the At­lantic and strike as early as Satur­day.

Irma weak­ened from a Cat­e­gory 5 storm to Cat­e­gory 4 on Fri­day morn­ing with max­i­mum sus­tained winds near 240 kilo­me­tres per hour, but it re­mained a pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane. Florida braced for the on­slaught, with fore­cast­ers warn­ing Irma could slam head­long into the Mi­ami metropoli­tan area of six 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 280 km/h. Peo­ple rushed to board up their homes, take their boats out of the water and gas up their cars. With ga­so­line run­ning out and ten­sions ris­ing, the Florida Highway Pa­trol es­corted tanker trucks sent to re­plen­ish gas sta­tions.

“It is wider than our en­tire state and could cause ma­jor and lifethreat­en­ing im­pacts from coast to coast. Re­gard­less of which coast you live on, be pre­pared to evac­u­ate,” Gov. Rick Scott said.

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

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

The storm had claimed at least 20 lives, in­clud­ing nine on the French Caribbean is­lands of St.Martin and St. Barts, four in the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands, four in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands and three on the Bri­tish is­land of An­guilla, Bar­buda and the Dutch side of St. Martin.

Hur­ri­cane Irma roared through the 40 small is­lands of the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands late Wed­nes­day, caus­ing ma­jor dam­age to the largest and most pop­u­lated is­land of Tor­tola.

Four peo­ple have died, the Caribbean Dis­as­ter Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency said in a state­ment Fri­day. The agency gave no de­tails. The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment has been co-or­di­nat­ing re­lief ef­forts to the clus­ter of is­lands near Puerto Rico and the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands. The Caribbean dis­as­ter agency says the Tor­tola air­port is op­er­a­tional but the tower has been “com­pro­mised.”

Of­fi­cials on St. Thomas said they ex­pected to find more bod­ies on the is­land where author­i­ties de­scribed the dam­age as cat­a­strophic and said crews were strug­gling to re­open roads and re­store power.

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

Gov. Ken­neth Mapp im­posed a 6 p.m. cur­few. The pri­mary fo­cus for now is “mak­ing sure peo­ple have meals, water and shel­ter,” Mapp said.

“An event of this mag­ni­tude is very chill­ing.”


Sand is dumped along the dunes on Route A1A as pro­tec­tion ahead of Hur­ri­cane Irma in Fla­gler Beach, Fla.

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