Hurricane Irma howled past Puerto Rico with 185mph winds after reducing the tiny tropical islands of Barbuda and St Martin to rubble and claiming at least ten lives.
The category 5 storm – the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic – left a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean when it struck on Wednesday on a potential collision course with south Florida.
Barbuda and St Martin suffered the storm’s full fury with roughly 95 per cent of properties destroyed on both islands. Officials said at least eight people died on the French part of St Martin – a pristine resort known for its vibrant nightlife.
‘It’s an enormous catastrophe. Ninety-five percent of the island is destroyed,’ top local official Daniel Gibbs said. ‘I’m in shock. It’s frightening.’
The island, which is divided between the Netherlands and France, was left without drinking water or electricity and the death toll is expected to rise.
Barbuda, part of the twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, also suffered ‘absolute devastation’ and is ‘barely habitable’ with more than 90 per cent of dwellings completely destroyed, a child killed and 60 per cent of the population left homeless.
Meanwhile, residents on the British Overseas Territory of Anguilla said the island was ‘utterly devastated’ and looked as though it had ‘suffered nuclear bomb devastation’.
The core was expected to scrape the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday and track near Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas later. This morning, the United Nations said up to 49 million people are in the hurricane’s path as aid agencies prepare for a ‘major humanitarian response’. source the daily mail
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the UK is ‘taking swift action to respond’ to the disaster after speaking to the chief minister of Anguilla, a British overseas territory that was among the first islands to be hit. A British naval ship has been deployed to help deal with the aftermath with 40 Royal Marines on board, as well as army engineers and equipment, as authorities struggle to bring aid to smaller islands.
‘It is just a total devastation. Barbuda is literally rubble,’ Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told ABS TV Radio in Antigua.
He added that the island, which is home to 1,800 people, was left ‘barely habitable’.
‘The entire housing stock was damaged… Some have lost whole roofs. Some properties have been totally demolished,’ he said.
‘We have estimated the rebuilding efforts to be no less than $150 million. That is conservative, because we’re talking about rebuilding everything, all of the institutions, the infrastructure, the telecommunications, the roads… Even the hotels on the island, those are totally demolished, as well. It is terrible.’
More than half of Puerto Rico’s population of three million was left without power and at least 50,000 were without water, with rivers breaking their banks in the center and north of the island.
Governor Ricardo Rossello had activated the National Guard and opened storm shelters sufficient to house up to 62,000 people. Fourteen hospitals were relying on emergency generators.
The eye of the hurricane is following a projected path that would see it hit the northern edges of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, according to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center.
It is then expected to close in on Turks and Caicos and south-eastern Bahamas by Thursday night before veering north for Florida.
Hurricane Irma has killed at least ten people and caused devastation on Caribbean islands as it heads towards the south coast of America.
It first hit land in the early hours of Wednesday morning before heading north west on a deadly path of destruction. These are the islands affected so far:
Antigua and Barbuda
Barbuda was the first land to be hit by 185mph Irma with the storm destroying nearly all buildings on the island and killing a two-year-old child as a family tried to escape.
Officials described ‘total carnage’ with 95 per cent of Barbuda destroyed by the force of the wind and left ‘barely habitable’. A two-year-old child was reportedly killed in the storm.
St Kitts & Nevis
Prime Minister minister Timothy Harris said the island was ‘spared the full brunt’ of Irma, but warned of ‘significant damage’ to buildings.
Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy
At least eight were left dead on Saint Martin as the storm wreaks havoc on the two islands.
Speaking on French radio France Info, Gerard Collomb said the death toll in Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy could be higher because rescue teams have yet to finish their inspection of the islands.
Some 95 per cent of St Martin has been destroyed. ‘It is an enormous disaster, 95 percent of the island is destroyed, I am in shock,’ Daniel Gibbs, chairman of a local council on Saint Martin, told Radio Caribbean International.
The tourist board says the major resorts on the island survived a hit from Hurricane Irma but many private homes have been damaged.
However, Josephine Gumbs-Conner, a lawyer from the British Overseas Territory, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme today: Anguilla is utterly devastated. We are very familiar with hurricanes, but this particular one, Hurricane Irma, was off the charts in terms of strength. It has certain cut a swathe through Anguilla that has left us in absolute pieces.
‘Our police service has suffered roof damage, so has our court house, so has our prisons, so has the hospital. Just in terms of essential services alone we are clearly in limping position.
‘When you look at our island at the moment you would think that it just suffered nuclear bomb devastation. We are in such a compromised position at the moment.’
British Virgin Islands
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the eye of Hurricane Irma passed over the British Virgin Islands with wind gust of up to 110 mph to the west at Buck Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Significant damage has been reported with critical facilities, homes, businesses and supermarkets destroyed.
Among the people hunkered down was Richard Branson, the head of the Virgin Group, whose home on Necker Island was destroyed.
US president Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency in the US Virgin Islands.
At 1 p.m. local time, the storm was centered about 35 miles east of St. Thomas and 105 miles east of San Juan.
Irma blacked out much of Puerto Rico as the dangerous Category 5 storm raked the U.S. territory with heavy wind and rain while staying just out to sea.
Irma is the worst hurricane to hit the island since 1928. Most have been left without power and 50,000 without water.
NOAA Hurricane Hunters flight director Richard Henning told CNN Wednesday night that Irma is ‘getting stronger’.
He said hurricane aircrafts were measuring winds over 189 mph at the eye of the storm.
‘You really can’t over-hype this storm. We haven’t really seen a storm like Irma.’
The US National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma’s magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida.
‘The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we’ve ever seen,’ Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. ‘A lot of infrastructure won’t be able to withstand this kind of force.’
The storm moved west on Wednesday completely destroying the small islands in its path.
On St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, Laura Strickling spent 12 hours hunkered down with her husband and 1-year-old daughter in a boarded-up basement apartment with no power as the storm raged outside.
LATEST FLORIDA EVACUATION ORDERS:
Florida Governor Rick Scott has ordered the emergency evacuation of Miami’s coastal zones as Hurricane Irma approaches the United States mainland.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for all of zone A and the zone B barrier islands in Miami-Dade County.
This is the first evacuation in 12 years and saw 100,000 residents of mobile homes, barrier islands and low-lying mainland areas ordered to leave the city starting 9am on Thursday.
Thursday morning’s order applies to the county’s zone A, which covers Key Biscane, and the coast-line along Southeast Miami-Dade and just north of Miami – but only to the barrier islands of zone B.
That includes Bal Harbour, Bay Harbour Islands, Golden Beach, Indian Creek Village, Miami Beach, North Bay Village, Sunny Isles Beach and Surfside.
Tolls on all highways have been suspended and evacuation had already begun in the Florida Keys
They emerged to find the lush island in tatters, with many of their neighbors’ homes damaged and the once-dense vegetation largely gone.
‘There are no leaves. It is crazy. One of the things we loved about St. Thomas is that it was so green. And it’s gone,’ said Strickling, who moved to the island with her husband three years ago from Washington, D.C. ‘It will take years for this community to get back on its feet.’
Significant effects were also reported on St Martin. Photos and video circulating on social media showed major damage to the airport in Philipsburg and the coastal village of Marigot heavily flooded.
France sent emergency food and water rations there and to the French island of St. Bart’s, where Irma ripped off roofs and knocked out all electricity. Dutch marines who flew to St Martin and two other Dutch islands hammered by Irma reported extensive damage but no deaths or injuries.
In Cuba, a state of alert was declared in several eastern and central provinces, with at-risk residents advised to move in with relatives or reach government shelters.
Haiti’s northern coast was on hurricane alert, although in the town of Cap-Haitien residents appeared mostly unaware of the impending storm.
The US National Hurricane Center said Irma’s winds would fluctuate, but the storm would likely remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it roared past the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas.
Evacuations from high-risk areas were ordered throughout the path of the storm.
By early Sunday, Irma is expected to hit Florida, where Governor Rick Scott said he planned to activate 7,000 National Guard soldiers by Friday and warned that Irma is ‘bigger, faster and stronger’ than Hurricane Andrew.
Andrew pummeled south Florida 25 years ago and wiped out entire neighborhoods with ferocious winds.
Billionaire Sir Richard Branson bunkered down with staff at his private island in the British Virgin Islands to ride out the storm on Wednesday night. His son revealed on social media that the home had been completely destroyed by Hurricane Irma.
British holidaymakers on Caribbean islands have described barricading themselves into hotels and villas as authorities in other areas order mass evacuations.
Alex Woolfall, who is staying on the island of St Maarten, told how he and other holidaymakers huddled in the concrete stairwell of their hotel as the ‘apocalyptic’ noise of the winds roared outside.
He tweeted: ‘Still thunderous sonic boom noises outside & boiling in stairwell. Can feel scream of things being hurled against building.’
Experts said Irma was so powerful it was registering on devices designed to detect earthquakes. Scientists picked up the background noise of winds causing trees to move and crashing ocean waves on their earthquake-detecting seismometers.
In addition to Irma, Tropical Storm Jose has now formed behind it in the open Atlantic and is expected to develop into a hurricane. A third tropical storm – Katia – has also formed in the Gulf of Mexico with winds but is expected to stay offshore until Friday morning.
Hurricane Irma roared into the Caribbean with record-setting force early Wednesday, shaking homes and flooding buildings on a chain of small islands along a path to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and eventually south Florida.
Irma passed almost directly over the island of Barbuda, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The Red Cross this morning said it is preparing for ‘a major humanitarian response’.
‘The forecast as it stands right now is extremely worrying,’ said Walter Cotte, the agency’s Regional Director for the Americas. ‘We are anticipating major impacts on a number of islands, and we are preparing to respond to needs that may arise.
‘One of the main challenges is going to be logistical, given the isolation of some the islands. We need to ensure a reliable channel for relief efforts in the aftermath of the hurricane.’
Dutch authorities are trying to gauge the extent of damage in Saint Maarten from Hurricane Irma, but officials say it appears to be significant.
St Maarten is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and shares an island with the French territory of St. Martin. The island is east of Puerto Rico.
Dutch Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk says the damage wreaked on the Caribbean island of St Maarten by Category 5 Hurricane Irma is ‘enormous.’
Dutch Caribbean coast guard spokesman Roderick Gouverneur says coast guard officials in Curacao have lost communication with their base in Sint Maarten.
Plasterk told reporters in The Hague on Wednesday that the damage caused by Irma’s direct hit on the island ‘is so major that we don’t yet have a full picture, also because contact is difficult at the moment.’
About 100 troops are on the island helping local authorities assess damage and repair vital infrastructure in the storm’s aftermath. Two navy ships are also steaming to the island to offer help.
Dutch Navy spokeswoman Karen Loos says that some troops were able to send images of destruction from St. Maarten and another island, St. Eustatius.
‘You do see there is a lot of damage. Trees, houses, roofs that are blown out. A lot of water, high water,’ Loos said.
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