Maria becomes major hurricane, powers through Caribbean

Hurricane Maria is shown in the Atlantic Ocean about 85 miles east of Martinique in this September 17, 2017 NASA handout satellite photo. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

By Robert Sandiford

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (Reuters) – Hurricane Maria picked up strength and roared toward the Leeward Islands on Monday on a track that could whip several eastern Caribbean islands with their second major storm this month.

Maria grew into a Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour (195 km per hour). It was located about 60 miles (95 km) east of Martinique, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said at 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT).

It was headed west-northwest at about 10 mph (17 kph) on a track that would put it over the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico by Wednesday.

Maria was expected to be the second major hurricane this year to hit the Leeward Islands, which were hammered by Hurricane Irma earlier this month, the center said.

Streets were flooded in some residential parts of the island of Barbados, which had been experiencing heavy rain since Sunday as the storm approached.

Maria was expected to bring storm surges – seawater driven ashore by wind – of up to 6 feet to 9 feet (1.8-2.7 m), the NHC said. Parts of the central and southern Leeward Islands could see as much as 20 inches (51 cm) of rain, it said.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings and watches were in effect for a string of islands in the area, including the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda and the French-Dutch island of Saint Martin.

Several of those islands were devastated earlier this month when Hurricane Irma rampaged through the Caribbean as one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded, killing more than 80 people on the islands and the U.S. mainland.

The deck of a U.S. Navy landing craft is crowded with Army soldiers and their belongings as they are evacuated in advance of Hurricane Maria, off St. Thomas shore, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

The deck of a U.S. Navy landing craft is crowded with Army soldiers and their belongings as they are evacuated in advance of Hurricane Maria, off St. Thomas shore, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory which Irma grazed as it headed toward Cuba and Florida, opened shelters and began to dismantle construction cranes that could be vulnerable to high winds as it prepared for Maria.

“It is time to seek refuge with a family member, friend, or move to a state shelter because rescuers will not go out and risk their lives once winds reach 50 miles per hour,” Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló told reporters on Monday.

Some 450 shelters were open, including one in San Juan that is already housing people evacuated by nearby islands hit by Irma, the government said.

More than 1,700 residents of Barbuda were evacuated to neighboring Antigua after Irma damaged nearly every building there.

Further north, forecasters were also tracking Category 1 Hurricane Jose, which was carrying 75-mph (120-kph) winds and was located about 265 miles (430 km) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The eye of that storm was forecast to remain off the east coast of the United States for the next few days, bringing dangerous surf and rip currents to beaches from Delaware through Massachusetts.

 

(Additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry)

 

Caribbean residents fend off looters after Irma; Branson urges ‘Marshall Plan’

An aireal view shows damage after hurricane Irma passed over Providenciales on the Turks and Caicos Islands, September 11, 2017. Picture taken September 11, 2017. Cpl Darren Legg RLC/Ministry of Defence handout via REUTERS

By Alvin Baez

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Food shortages and looting on Caribbean islands hammered by Hurricane Irma sparked growing criticism of the government response, prompting British billionaire Richard Branson to call for a “Marshall plan” to help the region recover.

Irma ripped through the tiny easterly Leeward Islands last week as one of the Atlantic’s strongest ever storms, killing two dozen people, uprooting trees, tearing down power cables and severely damaging the homes of poor locals and the global jet-set alike.

Across the whole of the Caribbean, Irma killed nearly 40 people and devastated basic services, tearing cracks in law and order. Looting erupted on some Caribbean islands where residents and tourists were stranded with little food, shelter or drinking water.

Jenn Manes, who writes a blog on U.S. Virgin Island St. John, detailed a list of robberies and break-ins on the island after Irma struck, saying she had to install a bar on the inside of her door to keep out would-be burglars.

“This is not St. John anymore. I’m not sure what it is. What I do know is that I am scared. My friends are scared. And we don’t know what to do,” she wrote.

Despite sending reinforcements and ships to deliver help, France, Britain and the Netherlands have been criticized for not doing enough for the islands that they oversee.

Britain’s Defence Minister Michael Fallon at the weekend said his government’s effort was “as good as anybody else’s.”

The Dutch government on Sunday described the situation as “fragile” on its half of the island of St. Martin, where an undisclosed number of arrests of looters were made after Irma damaged or destroyed 70 percent of the local housing stock.

Alex Martinez, a 31-year-old American trapped on the Dutch part of St. Martin by Irma, said looters tried to raid his near-deserted hotel before he and others chased them off. “We had to fend for ourselves,” he told Reuters.

Struggling to get answers about loved-ones, many people resorted to sharing information and making pleas on a Facebook page set up to help people on St. Martin.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk on Monday visited St. Martin, reviewing the damage done to the battered island with local leaders. French President Emmanuel Macron was expected in the Caribbean on Tuesday.

British Army Commandos take part in recovery efforts after hurricane Irma passed Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, September 11, 2017. Picture taken September 11, 2017. Captain George Eatwell RM/Ministry of Defence handout via REUTERS

British Army Commandos take part in recovery efforts after hurricane Irma passed Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, September 11, 2017. Picture taken September 11, 2017. Captain George Eatwell RM/Ministry of Defence handout via REUTERS

BRANSON CALLS FOR AID EFFORT

Following the passage of Hurricane Luis in 1995, which killed at least 15 people in the Caribbean and damaged 60 percent of housing on St. Martin, the U.S. National Hurricane Center estimated the cost to St. Martin alone at $1.8 billion.

Businessman Branson, who has lived in the British Virgin Islands for the past 11 years, said in a blog post on www.virgin.com that the region needed a “Disaster Recovery Marshall Plan” to rebuild and revitalize its economy – a reference to the multibillion-dollar U.S. program that helped rebuild Western Europe after the devastation of World War Two.

“We must get more help to the islands to rebuild homes and infrastructure and restore power, clean water and food supplies,” said Branson, head of the Virgin Group conglomerate.

He said he was writing from Puerto Rico, where he was mobilizing aid efforts, and that he would be returning to the Virgin Islands soon for recovery work.

Branson said the British government had a “massive role to play” in rebuilding its territories, including the British Virgin Islands, an offshore financial center.

The premier of the British Virgin Islands, Orlando Smith, also appealed for urgent aid from Britain, saying the situation was critical and calling for a comprehensive package. The plan should include the possibility of more extreme weather “as the effects of climate change continue to grow,” he said.

Still, on Monday, blogger Manes on U.S. Virgin Island St. John reported the situation was improving, saying police were patrolling the streets and that a Navy ship had arrived to help.

(Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City, Daniel Flynn in Sao Paulo, Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam, Ingrid Melander in Paris; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Bill Trott and Lisa Shumaker)

Florida braces for Hurricane Irma as storm rips through Cuba

Hurricane Irma downgraded as it tears into Cuba's northern coast

By Sarah Marsh

REMEDIOS, Cuba (Reuters) – Hurricane Irma pounded Cuba’s northern coast on Saturday and barreled toward Florida as authorities scrambled to complete an unprecedented evacuation of millions of residents hours before the storm would engulf the state.

The outer band of Irma, which has killed at least 22 people in the Caribbean, was already lashing South Florida with tropical storm-force winds and left nearly 25,000 people without power, Governor Rick Scott said.

The brunt of the hurricane, one of the fiercest Atlantic storms in a century, is due to arrive in Florida early Sunday.

Irma could inflict major damage on the fourth-largest U.S. state by population, which is braced for winds well in excess of 100 miles per hour and a huge storm surge that could trigger coastal flooding.

“This is a deadly storm and our state has never seen anything like it,” Scott said at a Saturday morning news conference.

Irma, located about 225 miles (365 km) south of Miami on Saturday morning, still ranked as a Category 5 storm when it crashed into Cuba in the early hours of Saturday. It weakened to a Category 3 as it tore along the island’s northern coastline, downing power lines, bending palm trees and sending huge waves crashing over sea walls.

Maximum sustained winds dipped to around 130 miles per hour (215 km per hour) by 8 a.m. (1200 GMT) on Saturday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

But Irma will regain strength as it moves over the warm open water as it approaches Florida, according to the NHS, which expects the storm to arrive in the Keys, an archipelago off the peninsula’s southern tip, on Sunday morning.

On Florida’s West Coast, a long line of people in Estero, north of Naples, lined up to enter an arena that officials converted into an evacuation shelter, one of hundreds that have opened up across the state.

“We got the house all buttoned up,” said Montgomery Campbell, 82, as he stood in line.

Luise Campana Read was one of those who chose to ignore warnings and stay in her home. She said by phone she planned to ride out the storm in her beachfront condo in Fort Lauderdale, with her elderly mother and other family members.

“With a 97-year-old, there was no way I was going to have her sleep on a cot or a blow-up mattress” in a shelter, she said.

The destruction along Cuba’s north central coast was similar to that seen on other Caribbean islands over the last week as Irma plowed into Ciego de Avila province around midnight.

State media said it was the first time the eye of a Category 5 storm had made landfall since 1932. In the days before Irma struck, the island’s Communist government evacuated tens of thousands of foreign tourists from resorts on the northern coast.

In Ciego de Avila province, Irma was forecast to generate waves of up to 7 meters (23 feet), with flooding expected as far west as the capital Havana, authorities said on Saturday.

Antonia Navarro, 56, a resident of the northern Cuban port town of Nuevitas in Camaguey, said a local ice cream factory was destroyed and glass windows at a hospital were blown out.

“We are praying to God and the Virgin of Charity that nothing grave happens to the people of Florida, and in particular Miami,” said Navarro, an officer worker. “We have to pray a lot for our relatives who live there.”

“RUNNING OUT OF TIME”

With the storm barreling toward the United States, officials in Florida raced to overcome clogged highways, gasoline shortages and move elderly residents to safety.

A total of 5.6 million people, or 25 percent of the state’s population, were ordered to evacuate Florida, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

The United States has been hit by only three Category 5 storms since 1851, and Irma is far larger than the last one in 1992, Hurricane Andrew, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 ended slightly lower as investors braced for potential damage and massive insurance claims from Irma. Many economists are predicting that third-quarter gross domestic product will take a hit due to the hurricanes.

President Donald Trump said in a videotaped statement that Irma was “a storm of absolutely historic destructive potential” and called on people to heed recommendations from government officials and law enforcement. In Palm Beach, Trump’s waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate was ordered evacuated.

Trees sway in the wind at the main square as Hurricane Irma passes by Remedios, Cuba September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

MANDATORY EVACUATIONS, GASOLINE SHORTAGES

Irma was set to hit the United States two weeks after Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, struck Texas, killing about 60 people and causing property damage estimated at up to $180 billion in Texas and Louisiana. Officials were preparing a massive response, the head of FEMA said.

About 9 million people in Florida may lose power, some for weeks, said Florida Power & Light Co, which serves almost half of the state’s 20.6 million residents.

Amid the exodus, nearly one-third of all gas stations in Florida’s metropolitan areas were out of gasoline, with scattered outages in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, according to Gasbuddy.com, a retail fuel price tracking service.

Mandatory evacuations on Georgia’s Atlantic coast and some of South Carolina’s barrier islands were due to begin on Saturday. Virginia and Alabama were under states of emergency.

The governors of North and South Carolina warned residents to remain on guard even as the storm took a more westward track, saying their states still could experience severe weather, including heavy rain and flash flooding, early next week.

As it roared in from the east, Irma ravaged small islands in the northeastern Caribbean, including Barbuda, St. Martin and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, flattening homes and hospitals and ripping down trees.

Irma is seen costing at least 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, a French public reinsurance body said on Saturday.

But even as they came to grips with the destruction, residents of the islands faced the threat of another major storm, Hurricane Jose.

Jose, expected to reach the northeastern Caribbean on Saturday, is an extremely dangerous storm nearing Category 5 status, with winds of up to 150 mph (240 kph), the NHC said.

(For a graphic on how Irma compares to other major hurricanes, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2gTxfqJ)

(Additional reporting by Marc Frank in Havana, Makini Brice in Cap-Haitien, Haiti,; Delana Isles in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, Bernie Woodall, Robin Respaut and Brian Thevenot in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Ben Gruber and Andy Sullivan in Miami, Bate Felix, Richard Lough and Dominique Vidalon in Paris, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam and Neil Hartnell in Nassau, Bahamas; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Helen Popper, Dale Hudson and Diane Craft)

Irma powers toward Florida, leaving behind path of death, destruction

Irma powers toward Florida, leaving behind path of death, destruction

By Delana Isles

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos (Reuters) – Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, drove toward Florida on Friday after lashing the Caribbean with devastating winds and torrential rain, killing 19 people and leaving a swathe of catastrophic destruction.

Irma was about 450 miles (724 km) southeast of Miami, Florida, early Friday after saturating the northern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and pummeling the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The “extremely dangerous” hurricane was downgraded from a Category 5 to a Category 4 early Friday but still packed winds as strong as 150 miles per hour (240 km per hour), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an advisory at 8 a.m EDT (noon GMT).

Irma hit the Bahamas on Friday, where it was forecast to bring 20-foot (six-meter) storm surges before moving to Cuba and then slamming into southern Florida on Sunday.

In Miami, hundreds lined up for bottled water and cars looped around city blocks to buy gas on Thursday. Shortages in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area worsened on Thursday, with sales up to five times the norm.

In Palm Beach, the waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate owned by U.S. President Donald Trump was ordered evacuated, media reported. Trump also owns property on the French side of St. Martin, an island devastated by the storm.

A mandatory evacuation on Georgia’s Atlantic coast was due to begin on Saturday, Governor Nathan Deal said. The storm comes two weeks after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas, claiming around 60 lives and causing property damage estimated at as much as $180 billion in Texas and Louisiana.

Irma ravaged a series of small islands in the northeast Caribbean, including Barbuda, St. Martin and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, flattening homes and hospitals and ripping down trees.

A Reuters witness described the roof and walls of a solidly built house shaking hard as the storm rocked the island of Providenciales and caused a drop in pressure that could be felt in people’s chests.

Throughout the islands in Irma’s wake, stunned locals tried to comprehend the devastation as they were getting ready for another major hurricane, Jose, a Category 3 due to reach the northeastern Caribbean on Saturday.

A storm batters as Hurricane Irma descends on Providenciales, in the Turks and Caicos Islands, in this still image taken from September 7, 2017 social media video. MANDATORY CREDIT Aneesa Khan/via REUTERS

A storm batters as Hurricane Irma descends on Providenciales, in the Turks and Caicos Islands, in this still image taken from September 7, 2017 social media video. MANDATORY CREDIT Aneesa Khan/via REUTERS

DEATHS RISE

The death toll from the storm has risen as emergency services got access to remote areas pummeled by heavy winds and rain. French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said on Friday that nine people were killed and at least seven were missing after the hurricane crashed into France’s Caribbean islands of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy.

“One hundred and twelve people were injured,” Collomb said, adding there could be more victims.

Four people died in the U.S. Virgin islands, a government spokesman said, and a major hospital was badly damaged by the wind. A U.S. amphibious assault ship arrived in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Thursday and sent helicopters for medical evacuations from the destroyed hospital.

A man was reported missing after trying to cross a river in Cerca La Source in Haiti’s Central Plateau region.

On Barbuda one person died and the eastern Caribbean island was reduced “to rubble,” Prime Minister Gaston Browne said. In the British overseas territory of Anguilla, another person was killed and the hospital and airport were damaged, emergency service officials said.

Three people were killed in Puerto Rico and around two-thirds of the population had lost electricity, Governor Ricardo Rossello said after the storm rolled by the U.S. territory’s northern coast. A surfer was also reported killed in Barbados.

The storm passed just to the north of the island of Hispaniola, shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, causing damage to roofs, flooding and power outages as it approached the impoverished Haitian side, but did not make landfall there..

Cuba evacuated some of the 51,000 tourists visiting the island, particularly 36,000 people at resorts on the northern coast. In Caibarien, a coastal town in the hurricane’s predicted path, residents headed farther inland.

Irma is the strongest hurricane recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the five most forceful storms to hit the Atlantic basin in 82 years, according to the NHC.

(For a graphic on historical perspective of Irma, click: http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/STORM-HARVEY/010050K2197/index.html)

(Reporting by Makini Brice in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, Bate Felix and Dominique Vidalon in Paris, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Dan Flynn; Editing by Larry King and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Hurricane Irma kills 10, may hit Florida Sunday as Category 4

The aftermath of Hurricane Irma on Saint Martin.

By Jorge Pineda

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (Reuters) – Hurricane Irma plowed past the Dominican Republic toward Haiti on Thursday after devastating a string of Caribbean islands and killing at least 10 people as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century took aim at Florida.

With winds of around 175 mph (290 kph), the storm lashed several small islands in the northeast Caribbean, including Barbuda, St. Martin and the British Virgin Islands, tearing down trees, flattening homes and causing widespread damage.

The eye of the hurricane did not directly hit Puerto Rico, passing north early Thursday, battering the U.S. territory with high winds and heavy rains. Three people were killed and around two-thirds of the population lost their electricity, Governor Ricardo Rossello said.

The eye of Irma was moving west-northwest off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, heading slightly north of Haiti, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The United Nations Children’s Fund warned that millions of children could be at risk in the two countries, which share the island of Hispaniola. Impoverished Haiti has been particularly vulnerable to hurricanes and heavy rains.

Irma’s eye was forecast to pass over the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British territory, and the Bahamas before moving towards Cuba’s keys.

Irma will likely hit Florida as a very powerful Category 4 storm on Sunday, with storm surges and flooding beginning within the next 48 hours, according to the NHC. Gas shortages in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area worsened on Thursday, with sales up to five times the norm.

Cuba started evacuating some of the 51,000 tourists visiting the island, particularly 36,000 people at resorts on the picturesque northern coast, most of them Canadians.

“Canada decided … to evacuate all the Canadian tourists in the country,” said Cuban Tourism Minster Manuel Marrero, estimating they made up 60 percent of tourists in the country’s keys.

Authorities in the Dominican Republic ordered evacuations in towns along the northern Atlantic coast such as Cabarete, a thriving tourist spot where trees were brought down by high winds but no severe damage was reported.

“There is a lot of wind and rain,” Puerto Plata Assistant District Attorney Juan Carlos Castro Hernandez told Reuters by telephone. “We expect things to get worse.”

Cabarete was expected to bear the brunt of the hurricane’s winds and storm surge. Hotel executive Roque Alvarez said most tourists left prior to the storm, either flown or bused out.

A woman walks through a flooded street as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

A woman walks through a flooded street as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

“ENORMOUS DISASTER”

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe lowered the death toll, saying four bodies were recovered on the tiny French-Dutch island of St. Martin, which was hit hard. Earlier, in the confusion surrounding Irma, France’s interior minister had said eight people were killed and nearly two dozen injured.

“It is an enormous disaster. Ninety-five percent of the island is destroyed. I am in shock,” Daniel Gibbs, chairman of a local council on St. Martin, told Radio Caribbean International.

Television footage from the island showed a damaged marina with boats tossed into piles, submerged streets and flooded homes. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday to coordinate an emergency humanitarian response.

Amid criticism from many residents that the British government could have done more to help its territories, Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan said a Royal Navy ship would reach the affected islands on Thursday with tents, vehicles and other relief equipment.

“Anguilla received the hurricane’s full blast. The initial assessment is that the damage has been severe and in places critical,” he told parliament.

One person was killed on the island and roads were blocked, with damage to the hospital and airport, power and phone service, Anguilla emergency service officials said.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth said she was “shocked and saddened” by the reports of Caribbean devastation.

In Puerto Rico, Rossello said it was to early to estimate the cost of the damage. The streets of the capital San Juan were littered with downed tree limbs and signs, with many street lights out.

Juan Pablo Aleman, a restaurant owner, said he had ridden out the storm in his 11th-floor apartment.

“The building moved, shook a few times. A lot of shingles came off and some windows broke,” he told Reuters. “If it had gone a little more to the south, it would have been catastrophic.”

The first bands of rain and wind began to lash Haiti’s normally bustling northern port city of Cap Haitien on Thursday.

Authorities went door to door, encouraging people to evacuate voluntarily from exposed areas, said Albert Moulion, a Ministry of the Interior spokesman.

“We’re asking all those living in areas at risk to leave their homes. If you don’t, you’ll be evacuated by force,” President Jovenel Moise said. “When you go to shelters you’ll find food, you’ll have something to sleep on.”

Irma was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the five most forceful storms to hit the Atlantic basin in 82 years, according to the NHC.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said it was unclear whether Irma would hit the state’s east or west coast but told residents to beware of the sea surge caused by powerful winds.

“The storm surge can kill you,” Scott said on the “CBS This Morning” program on Thursday. He urged people to heed local officials and be ready when the call came to leave their area, promising the government would provide transportation to those who need it.

The aftermath of Hurricane Irma on Saint Martin. Netherlands Ministry of Defense/via REUTERS

The aftermath of Hurricane Irma on Saint Martin. Netherlands Ministry of Defense/via REUTERS

“YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN”

With Irma set to become the second hurricane to hit the United States in as many weeks, Florida emergency management officials began evacuations, ordering tourists to leave the Florida Keys.

Roman Gastesi, the administrator of Monroe County, which encompasses the Florida Keys, told CNN that streets were empty in Key West and 90 percent of businesses were closed. County officials, including police and emergency workers, would be leaving, he said.

“If you’re going to stay, you’re on your own,” Gastesi said.

U.S. President Donald Trump was monitoring Irma’s progress. The president owns the waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

Trump approved emergency declarations for the state, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, mobilizing federal disaster relief efforts.

The island of Barbuda, one of the first hit by the storm, was reduced to “literally rubble,” said Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, adding that one person was killed and that the tiny two-island nation will seek international assistance.

Browne told the BBC that about half of Barbuda’s population of some 1,800 were homeless while nine out of 10 buildings had suffered some damage and many were destroyed.

“It was easily one of the most emotionally painful experiences that I have had,” Browne said in an interview on BBC Radio Four, adding that it would take months or years to restore some level of normalcy to the island.

A surfer was also reported killed in Barbados.

Two other hurricanes formed on Wednesday.

Katia in the Gulf of Mexico posed no threat to the United States, according to U.S. forecasters. Hurricane Jose was about 815 miles (1,310 km) east of the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles islands, and could eventually threaten the U.S. mainland.

The storm activity comes after Harvey claimed about 60 lives and caused property damage estimated to be as much as $180 billion in Texas and Louisiana.

(For a graphic on storms in the North Atlantic click http://tmsnrt.rs/2gcckz5)

(Reporting by Scott Malone in San Juan, Jorge Pinedo in Santo Domingo, Makini Brice in Cap Hatien, Guy Delva in Port au Prince, Sarah Marsh in Havana, Susan Heavey and Ian Simpson in Washington, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Estelle Shirbon in London, Matthias Blamont and Jean-Baptiste Vey in Paris, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Writing by Daniel Flynn and Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Hurricane Irma kills eight on Caribbean island of Saint Martin

Hurricane Irma kills eight on Caribbean island of Saint Martin

By Scott Malone

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Hurricane Irma killed eight people on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin and left Barbuda devastated on Thursday as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century took aim at Florida.

Television footage of the Franco-Dutch island of Saint Martin showed a damaged marina with boats tossed into piles, submerged streets and flooded homes. Power was knocked out on Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy and in parts of the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

“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.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said eight people were killed and the toll was likely to rise.

“We did not have the time yet to explore all the shores,” Collomb told Franceinfo radio, adding that 23 people were also injured. In all, at least 10 people were reported killed by Irma on four islands.

Irma caused “enormous damage” to the Dutch side of Saint Martin, called Sint Maarten, the Dutch Royal Navy said. The navy tweeted images gathered by helicopter of damaged houses, hotels and boats. The airport was unreachable, it said.

The hurricane was on track to reach Florida on Saturday or Sunday, becoming the second major hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland in as many weeks after Hurricane Harvey.

The eye of Irma was moving west-northwest off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic on Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The island of Barbuda is a scene of “total carnage” and the tiny two-island nation will seek international assistance, said Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda.

Browne told the BBC about half of Barbuda’s population of some 1,800 were homeless while nine out of 10 buildings had suffered some damage and many were destroyed.

RAIN AND WIND

“We flew into Barbuda only to see total carnage. It was easily one of the most emotionally painful experiences that I have had,” Browne said in an interview on BBC Radio Four.

“Approximately 50 percent of them (residents of Barbuda) are literally homeless at this time. They are bunking together, we are trying to get … relief supplies to them first thing tomorrow morning,” he said, adding that it would take months or years to restore some level of normalcy to the island.

Browne said one person was killed on Barbuda. A surfer was also reported killed on Barbados.

Irma hit Puerto Rico early on Thursday, buffeting its capital San Juan with rain and wind that scattered tree limbs across roadways. At least half of Puerto Rico’s homes and businesses were without power, according to Twitter posts and a message posted by an island utility executive.

The NHC said it was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the five most forceful storms to hit the Atlantic basin in 82 years.

Irma’s precise course remained uncertain but it was likely to be downgraded to a Category 4 storm by the time it makes landfall in Florida, the NHC said.

It has become a little less organized over the past few hours but the threat of direct hurricane impacts in Florida over the weekend and early next week were increasing, it said.

Hurricane watches were in effect for the northwestern Bahamas and much of Cuba.

Waves battle a stranded ship as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Waves battle a stranded ship as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

STORM PREPARATIONS

Two other hurricanes formed on Wednesday.

Katia in the Gulf of Mexico posed no threat to the United States, according to U.S. forecasters. Hurricane Jose was about 815 miles (1,310 km) east of the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles islands, could eventually threaten the U.S. mainland.

The storm activity comes after Harvey claimed about 60 lives and caused property damage estimated as high as $180 billion in Texas and Louisiana.

Florida emergency management officials began evacuations in advance of Irma’s arrival, ordering tourists to leave the Florida Keys. Evacuation of residents from the Keys began Wednesday evening.

Ed Rappaport, the Miami-based NHC’s acting director, told WFOR-TV that Irma was a “once-in-a-generation storm.”

In Cuba, 90 miles (145 km) south of the Keys, authorities posted a hurricane alert for the island’s central and eastern regions, as residents in Havana, the capital, waited in lines to stock up on food, water and gasoline.

U.S. President Donald Trump said he and aides were monitoring Irma’s progress. The president owns the waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

Trump approved emergency declarations from that state, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, mobilizing federal disaster relief efforts.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said Irma could be more devastating than Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that struck the state in 1992 and still ranks as one of the costliest ever in the United States.

Residents in most coastal communities of densely populated Miami-Dade County were ordered to move to higher ground beginning at 9 a.m. ET (1300 GMT) on Thursday, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said.

(For a graphic on storms in the North Atlantic click http://tmsnrt.rs/2gcckz5)

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien, Estelle Shirbon in London and Matthias Blamont and Jean-Baptiste Vey in Paris, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Hurricane Irma thrashes St. Martin as Florida braces for weekend landfall

Palm trees bend in the wind as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

By Scott Malone

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Monster Hurricane Irma hammered the Caribbean island of St. Martin on Wednesday as it packed a potentially catastrophic mix of pounding winds and rain and surging surf that was expected to make landfall in Florida over the weekend.

Irma could become the second powerful storm to thrash the U.S. mainland in as many weeks, but its precise trajectory remained uncertain. Hurricane Harvey killed more than 60 people and caused as much as $180 billion in damage after hitting Texas late last month.

The eye of Irma, a Category 5 storm with winds of 185 miles per hour (295 km per hour), was bearing down on the Virgin Islands after passing over the half-French, half-Dutch island of St. Martin, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami said. Category 5 is its highest category.

Its trajectory indicated Irma, which the NHC said was the strongest Atlantic storm on record, would skirt most of the Caribbean as it moves west-northwest.

Karel van Oosterom, the Netherlands ambassador to the United Nations, said Irma hit the Dutch islands of Saba and Sint Eustasius before overrunning St. Martin.

“First information indicates that a lot of damage has been done, but communication is still extremely difficult,” he said at a U.N. meeting.

Irma began lashing Puerto Rico with rain at mid-morning. Governor Ricardo Rossello told residents to stay inside as the storm bore down on the island. “There is no reason to be in the street,” Rossello told a midday press conference.

Many businesses in San Juan, the island’s capital, were closed and many buildings were covered with storm shutters. Occasional shoppers were out making final purchases of water, ice and food to prepare for what could be several days without power.

A shopper in Sedano's Supermarket looks at nearly empty water shelves in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida as residents are prepare for the approach of Hurricane Irma. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

A shopper in Sedano’s Supermarket looks at nearly empty water shelves in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami, Florida as residents are prepare for the approach of Hurricane Irma. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

ROOFS BLOWN OFF

After Irma battered the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, emergency officials reported three injuries and minimal damage, with some roofs blown off. Prime Minister Gaston Browne said flights would resume from the airport Wednesday afternoon.

Much of the Leeward Islands were under a hurricane watch, as well as the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas, the NHC said.

In Paris, the French government said it had delivered water and food to two overseas territories, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, and that emergency response teams would be sent once the storm had passed.

Power was knocked out on both islands, according to prefecture officials on Guadeloupe. At least four buildings were damaged and low-lying regions had been flooded, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said.

The U.N. World Food Program prepared to provide emergency aid to Haiti if it was hit by Irma. The country was ravaged by a 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew last year.

U.S. President Donald Trump said he and aides were monitoring Irma’s progress. “But it looks like it could be something that will be not good. Believe me, not good,” he told reporters in the White House.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said Irma could be more devastating than Hurricane Andrew, which struck the state in 1992, especially with a storm surge that could reach 10 feet (3 m).

Residents of the Florida Keys, a resort archipelago at the state’s southern tip, were ordered to leave by Wednesday evening. Residents of low-lying areas in densely populated Miami-Dade County were urged to move to higher ground.

“We can expect additional evacuations as this storm continues to come near our state,” Scott said at a news conference in the Keys.

He said 7,000 National Guard troops would report for duty on Friday, ahead of the storm’s expected arrival.

Irma ranked as one of the five most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in the last 80 years and the strongest Atlantic storm recorded by the NHC outside the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

Trump approved emergency declarations for Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, mobilizing federal disaster relief efforts.

With Irma’s looming arrival, the Miami Dolphins’ home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, scheduled for Sunday, was postponed until Nov. 19, the National Football League said.

A member of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) monitors the trajectory of Hurricane Irma in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

A member of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) monitors the trajectory of Hurricane Irma in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Jeff Mason, Ian Simpson and Susan Heavey in Washington, Tom Miles in Geneva and Richard Lough in Paris; Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Catherine Evans and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Hurricane Irma churns through Caribbean islands, possibly en route to Florida

Hurricane Irma churns through Caribbean islands, possibly en route to Florida

By Scott Malone

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, churned across northern Caribbean islands on Wednesday with a potentially catastrophic mix of fierce winds, surf and rain, en route to a possible Florida landfall at the weekend.

Irma is expected to become the second powerful storm to thrash the U.S. mainland in as many weeks but its precise trajectory remained uncertain. Hurricane Harvey killed more than 60 people and caused damaged estimated as high as $180 billion when it hit Texas late last month.

The eye of Irma, a Category 5 storm packing winds of 185 miles per hour (295 km per hour), moved away from the island of Barbuda and toward the island of St. Martin, east of Puerto Rico, early on Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami reported. It could hit Florida on Saturday.

“We are hunkered down and it is very windy … the wind is a major threat,” said Garfield Burford, the director of news at ABS TV and Radio on the island of Antigua, south of Barbuda. “So far, some roofs have been blown off.”

Men cover the windows of a car parts store in preparation for Hurricane Irma in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Men cover the windows of a car parts store in preparation for Hurricane Irma in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Most people who were on Antigua and Barbuda were without power and about 1,000 people were spending the night in shelters in Antigua, according to Burford.

“It’s very scary … most of the islands are dark so it’s a very, very frightening,” he said.

The eye of the hurricane went over Barbuda, which has a population of about 1,600 people, according to ABS radio.

“All hearts and all prayers and all minds go out to the Barbudans at this time because they experienced the full brunt,” a radio host said on the station early on Wednesday.

Public relations professional Alex Woolfall said on Twitter he was hiding underneath a concrete stairwell as the storm neared St. Maarten.

“Still thunderous sonic boom noises outside and boiling in stairwell. Can feel scream of things being hurled against building,” he said. “Okay I am now pretty terrified so can every non-believer, atheist & heretic please pray for me.”

The amount of damage and the number of casualties were not known early on Wednesday. A 75-year-old man died while preparing for the storm in Puerto Rico’s central mountains, police said.

Several other Leeward Islands, including Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, as well as the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic were under a hurricane warning.

“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the Hurricane Center said, warning that Irma “will bring life-threatening wind, storm surge and rainfall hazards” to those islands.

Along the beachfront of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, work crews scrambled to cover windows with plywood and corrugated metal shutters along Avenida Ashford, a stretch of restaurants, hotels and six-story apartments.

“I am worried because this is the biggest storm we have seen here,” said Jonathan Negron, 41, as he supervised workers boarding up his souvenir shop.

Customers walk near empty shelves that are normally filled with bottles of water after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Customers walk near empty shelves that are normally filled with bottles of water after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

The NHC said Irma ranked as one of the five most powerful Atlantic hurricanes during the past 80 years and the strongest Atlantic basin storm ever outside the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello urged the 3.4 million residents of the U.S. territory to seek refuge in one of 460 hurricane shelters in advance of the storm and later ordered police and National Guard troops to begin evacuations of flood-prone areas in the north and east of the island.

“This is something without precedent,” Rossello told a news conference.

U.S. President Donald Trump approved emergency declarations for Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, mobilizing federal disaster relief efforts, the White House said.

Authorities in the Florida Keys called for a mandatory evacuation of visitors to start at sunrise on Wednesday, and public schools throughout South Florida were ordered closed, some as early as Wednesday.

Residents of low-lying areas in densely populated Miami-Dade County were urged to move to higher ground by Wednesday as a precaution against coastal storm surges, three days before Irma was expected to make landfall in Florida.

Several tiny islands in the resort-heavy eastern Caribbean were the first in harm’s way.

Hurricane watches were in effect for Guadeloupe, Haiti, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas.

Airlines canceled flights to the region, and American Airlines added three extra flights to Miami from San Juan, St. Kitts and St. Maarten.

Residents of Texas and Louisiana were still recovering from Harvey, which struck Texas as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25. It dumped several feet of rain, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, and displaced more than 1 million people.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Nick Macfie and Catherine Evans)

Hurricane Irma barrels toward Caribbean, southern United States

Hurricane Irma barrels toward Caribbean, southern United States

(Reuters) – Hurricane Irma, a powerful Category 4 storm, plowed toward the Caribbean and the southern United States on Tuesday as islands in its path braced for possible life-threatening winds, storm surges and flooding.

Hurricane warnings and watches were in effect for parts of the Leeward Islands, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, in preparation for a storm that was intensifying with 150 mph (240 kph) winds, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

“Dangerous Hurricane Irma heading for the Leeward Islands,” the hurricane center said. “Preparations should be rushed to completion as tropical storm-force winds are expected to arrive in the hurricane warning area by late Tuesday.”

A Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale means sustained winds of 130-156 mph (209-251 kph) with “catastrophic” outcomes. They range from uprooted trees and downed power lines to water and electricity outages and enough damage to leave property uninhabitable, according to the Miami-based hurricane center.

In preparation for the storm, the government of economically struggling Puerto Rico has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. The U.S. territory, home to about 3.4 million people, has 456 emergency shelters prepared to house up to 62,100 people.

Puerto Rico also froze prices on basic necessities, including food and water, medicines, power generators and batteries, to help residents prepare.

Telemundo TV station WIPR in Puerto Rico showed long lines of shoppers stocking up on bottled water, flashlights, batteries, generators, food and other items.

The executive director of the state power authority, Ricardo Ramos, told the station that the power grid was so vulnerable from lack of investment that parts of the U.S. territory could be without power for three to four months.

“We’re preparing for the worst-case scenario,” he said.

Irma also threatens the U.S. East Coast and Florida, which has declared a state of emergency. The hurricane center expects Irma to reach southern Florida on Saturday.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said on Twitter late on Monday he had spoken to U.S. President Donald Trump, who he said “offered the full resources of the federal government as Floridians prepare for Hurricane Irma.”

The NHC cautioned that it was too early to forecast the storm’s exact path or what effects it might have on the continental United States, but warned of likely effects to hit some areas by later this week.

“There is an increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys later this week and this weekend. In addition, rough surf and dangerous marine conditions will begin to affect the southeastern U.S. coast by later this week,” the center said.

Irma will be the second powerful hurricane to thrash the United States and its territories in as many weeks.

Residents of Texas and Louisiana are still reeling from the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25 and dumped several feet of rain, destroying thousands of homes and businesses.

Customers walk near empty shelves that are normally filled with bottles of water after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Customers walk near empty shelves that are normally filled with bottles of water after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Alana Wise in New York and Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Larry King)

Hurricane Matthew’s threat to Haiti grows, some resist shelters

Families aboard a plane to evacuate them

By Makini Brice and Joseph Guyler Delva

LES CAYES/PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Hurricane Matthew edged closer to Haiti on Monday, bringing 130- mile-per-hour (215 kph) winds and torrential rain that could wreak havoc in the Caribbean nation, although some 2,000 people in one coastal town refused to evacuate.

Matthew’s center is expected to near southwestern Haiti and Jamaica on Monday night, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Crawling towards Haiti’s Les Cayes, Jamaica and Cuba at five miles per hour (seven kph), the storm could be just as slow leaving, giving its winds and rain more time to cause damage.

“We are worried about the slow pace of Hurricane Matthew, which will expose Haiti to much more rain, and the country is particularly vulnerable to flooding,” said Ronald Semelfort, director of Haiti’s national meteorology center.

The storm comes at a bad time for Haiti. The poorest country in the Americas is set to hold a long-delayed election next Sunday.

A combination of weak government and precarious living conditions make the country particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. More than 200,000 people were killed when a magnitude 7 earthquake struck in 2010.

“Even in normal times, when we have rain we have flooding that sometimes kills people,” said Semelfort, comparing Matthew to 1963’s Hurricane Flora, which swept away entire villages and killed thousands in Haiti.

RESISTANCE

In Jamaica too, officials were scrambling to protect the vulnerable, as residents boarded up windows and flocked to supermarkets to stock up on food, water, flashlights and beer.

In Cuba, which Matthew is due to reach on Tuesday, evacuation operations were well underway, with people voluntarily moving their belongings into neighbors’ houses or heading to shelters. Some even found cliff-side caves they said were the safest places to ride out storms.

Matthew was about 245 miles (3955 km) south-southeast of Jamaica’s Kingston early on Monday and moving north toward Haiti. The hurricane center ranked it at Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.

In Haiti, some streets were already flooded in Les Cayes, a town of about 70,000 people that was previously ravaged by hurricanes in 1781 and 1788.

But Haitian officials said about 2,000 residents of the La Savane neighborhood of Les Cayes refused to heed government calls to move out of their seaside homes, even though they were just a few miles from where the center of the hurricane is forecast to make landfall.

As the wind died down at night, people remained outside in La Savane, hanging out on porches, playing checkers and dominoes outside, and listening to music.

“The police and local authorities and our evacuation teams have been instructed to do all they can to move those people,” Interior Minister Francois Anick Joseph said.

“They have also been instructed to move them by force if necessary. We have an obligation to protect those peoples lives, even against their will.”

However, the chief of police for the southern region, Luc Pierre, said it was almost impossible to force such a large number of people to leave their homes.

“I would have to arrest all those people and take them to a safe place. This is very difficult,” he said, adding that the power had already gone off in the town.

Poor Haitians are at times reluctant to leave their homes in the face of impending storms, fearing their belongings will be stolen after they leave.

Only a few families had opted to move to a high school in La Savane, designated as a shelter for up to 600 people. It was without electricity and lit only by candlelight.

“There are babies crying here; there is nothing at all,” said Nadja, 32, who was pregnant with her fourth child.

(Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh and Gabriel Stargardter; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Larry King)