‘Avalanche of roofs’ in Dominica as Hurricane Maria lashes Caribbean

'Avalanche of roofs' in Dominica as Hurricane Maria lashes Caribbean

By Alvin Baez

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Hurricane Maria caused “mind boggling damage,” ripping off roofs across the small island of Dominica before pushing on toward the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Tuesday as the second top-strength storm to lash the Caribbean this month.

Maria regained rare Category 5 strength, the top end of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, as it churned about 170 miles (275 km) southeast of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. forecasters said.

It was carrying maximum sustained winds of 160 miles per hour (260 km per hour), the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, describing Maria as “potentially catastrophic.”

The storm plowed through Dominica, a mountainous island nation of 72,000 people in the eastern Caribbean, late on Monday causing devastation that Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit described as “mind boggling.”

“The winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with,” Skerrit said in a Facebook post, describing an avalanche of torn-away roofs across the country, including that of his own residence.

“My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured,” he said.

The storm made landfall on Dominica as a Category 5 hurricane with 155-mph (250-kph) winds, the NHC said. Its intensity may fluctuate over the next day or two, but Maria is expected to remain a category 4 or 5 storm, the Miami-based center said.

The region was hit just days ago by Hurricane Irma, which ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record and devastated several small islands, including Barbuda and the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas and St. John, and causing heavy damage in Cuba and Florida. Irma killed at least 84 people in the Caribbean and the U.S. mainland.

Maria was on track to move over the northeastern Caribbean Sea and approach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by Tuesday night or early on Wednesday.

The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Kenneth Mapp, said Maria would pass within 10 miles (16 km) of the island of St. Croix, which escaped the brunt of Irma on Sept. 6. The island is home to about 55,000 year-round residents, roughly half of the entire territory’s population.

At a news conference on Monday evening, Mapp warned of drenching rains. He predicted that most islanders would be without electricity for weeks, and “some folks will not get power in months.” A curfew would be imposed starting at 10 a.m. local time on Tuesday, he said.

A man covers the windows of a supermarket in preparation for Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

A man covers the windows of a supermarket in preparation for Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

SHELTER IN A BATHTUB

Mapp urged St. Croix residents to take cover in one of three emergency shelters on the island. For those choosing to stay in their homes during the storm, he said, they might consider climbing into a second-floor bathtub and pulling a mattress over them to stay safe in the event they lose their roofs.

Forecasts predict Maria will be the worst storm to hit St. Croix since Hugo, a Category 4 storm, in 1989.

The territory’s two other main islands, St. Thomas and St. John, which lie to the north of St. Croix, sustained widespread and heavy damage from Irma.

Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory with about 3.4 million inhabitants, avoided a direct hit two weeks ago from Irma as that storm skirted north, although it still saw damage.

Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, urged residents on Twitter to brace for Maria’s arrival, saying, “It is time to seek refuge with a family member, friend or head to a state shelter.”

Residents rushed to buy plywood, water and other supplies.

If Maria retains its strength, it would be the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 85 years, since a Category 4 storm swept the territory in 1932, Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. The last major hurricane to strike Puerto Rico directly was Georges, which made landfall there as a Category 3 storm in 1998, he said.

FRENCH TERRITORIES

The French island of Martinique escaped Maria largely unscathed but a communications blackout with fellow French territory Guadeloupe meant it would be several more hours before damage there could be assessed, Jacques Witkowski, France’s head of civil protection, told reporters in Paris.

In Saint Martin, where nearly a third of all buildings on the Dutch half of the island were destroyed by Irma, the airport and harbor were closed ahead of Maria’s approach.

“Saint Martin is the big concern because a lot of homes lost their roofs. They are vulnerable to a lot of rain, which will only make the situation worse,” said Paul Middelberg, a spokesman for the Dutch navy.

Maria was expected to whip up storm surges – seawater driven ashore by wind – of up to 9 feet (2.7 m) above normal tide levels, the NHC said. Parts of Puerto Rico could see up to 25 inches (64 cm) of rain, it said.

Maria is the 13th named Atlantic storm of the year, the seventh hurricane so far this season and the fourth major hurricane – defined as Category 3 or higher – following Harvey, Irma and Jose, the NHC said. Those numbers are all above average for a typical season, which is only about half over for 2017.

(Additional reporting by Richard Lough in Paris, Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam, Robert Edison Sandiford in Bridgetown, Barbados; Harriet McLeod in Charleston, South Carolina and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Catherine Evans and Frances Kerry)

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)

Hurricane Irma will ‘devastate’ part of U.S.: emergency services head

A member of the Emergency Operations Committee monitors the trajectory of Irma in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Anticipating that Hurricane Irma will “devastate” part of the United States, U.S. officials were preparing a massive response to the storm, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said on Friday.

With Irma set to hit Florida as early as Saturday night, parts of Florida was expected to lose electricity for days, if not longer, and more than 100,000 people may need shelter, FEMA Administrator Brock Long warned at a news conference.

“Hurricane Irma continues to be a threat that is going to devastate the United States in either Florida or some of the southeastern states,” Long said.

Irma was a Category 5 hurricane, the most dangerous measure by the National Hurricane Center, before being downgraded to Category 4 early Friday after pummeling islands in the Caribbean.

The United States has experienced only three Category 5 storms since 1851 and Irma is far larger than the last one to hit the United States in 1992, Hurricane Andrew, according to Long.

He warned people not to ignore evacuation orders.

“They need to get out and listen and heed the warnings,” Long said.

A man looks out to the flooded street in Puerto Plata.

A man looks out to the flooded street in Puerto Plata.
REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Officials have thousands of personnel ready to respond and millions of meals and liters of water in place nearby, Long said.

The National Weather Service said that Friday was the last day to evacuate before winds would start to reach unsafe speeds in Florida.

Airlines added extra flights from Florida on Thursday before announcing plans to halt service from some southern Florida airports starting Friday afternoon.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price called Irma a “remarkably dangerous storm and the window to get yourself in the right spot … is closing rapidly.”

Price said the main hospital in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands was closed after being damaged by Irma, and critically ill patients were being evacuated to Puerto Rico or other islands.

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted 80-17 to approve a measure to more than double funding to $15.25 billion to FEMA and for local block grants to handle natural disasters. FEMA’s disaster assistance fund could run out of money Friday without action, senators said.

The House is expected to approve the measure on Friday. It had already approved $7.85 billion on Wednesday.

A worker covers the windows of a restaurant with plywood in preparation for Hurricane Irma in Miami Beach, Florida, U.S., September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

A worker covers the windows of a restaurant with plywood in preparation for Hurricane Irma in Miami Beach, Florida, U.S., September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

(Editing by Bill Trott and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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)

Trump to visit flooded Texas as Harvey deluges region

Trump to visit flooded Texas as Harvey deluges region

By Mica Rosenberg and Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump planned to visit Texas on Tuesday to survey the response to devastating Tropical Storm Harvey, the first major natural disaster of his White House tenure, even as the lingering storm pushed floodwaters higher.

The slow-moving storm has brought catastrophic flooding to Texas, killed at least nine people, led to mass evacuations and paralyzed Houston, the fourth most-populous U.S. city. Some 30,000 people were expected to seek emergency shelter as the flooding entered its fourth day.

Harvey had also roiled energy markets and wrought damage estimated to be in the billions of dollars, with rebuilding likely to last beyond Trump’s current four-year term in office.

“My administration is coordinating closely with state and local authorities in Texas and Louisiana to save lives, and we thank our first responders and all of those involved in their efforts,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday.

Trump was scheduled to arrive on Tuesday morning in Corpus Christi, near where Harvey came ashore on Friday as the most powerful hurricane to strike Texas in more than 50 years. The president will later go to the Texas capital Austin to meet state officials, receive briefings and tour the emergency operation center, the White House said.

Much of the Houston area remained underwater on Tuesday, and dangerous rescues went on through the night as police, firefighters and National Guard troops in helicopters, boats and trucks pulled stranded residents from flooded homes.

Officials believed about 1,000 households remained to be rescued, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“We keep getting wave after wave after wave of rain and so that’s not calming the situation,” Pena said.

Forecasters drew comparisons to Hurricane Katrina, which lay waste to New Orleans and killed 1,800 people in 2005.

The administration of then-President George W. Bush drew accusations that his response was slow and inadequate – criticism that dealt a serious blow to his presidency.

Some who fled the rising floodwaters found they had few options, as roads were washed out and emergency services overloaded.

Emely Gonzalez, 21, said she took her wheelchair-bound mother to a hospital but was turned away because doctors determined her condition was not an emergency. Having left the woman’s oxygen tank at home, her friend Chris Pastor had to head back to the flooded home by kayak to retrieve it and had to swim back.

“It was just a very delicate situation,” Pastor said. The group later made it to safety in a hotel.

Before Harvey, the last Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Texas was Carla in 1961. Its high winds and torrential rains destroyed about 1,900 homes and nearly 1,000 businesses, the National Weather Service said.

Residents use boats to evacuate flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey along Tidwell Road east Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Residents use boats to evacuate flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey along Tidwell Road east Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

RUNWAYS TURNED INTO LAKES

Among the most recent deaths from Harvey was a man who drowned on Monday night while trying to swim across flooded Houston-area roads, the Houston Chronicle quoted the Montgomery County Constable’s Office as saying.

The storm center was in the Gulf of Mexico about 115 miles (185 km) southeast of Houston on Monday morning. It was likely to remain just off the coast of Texas through Tuesday night before moving inland over the northwestern Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Since coming ashore, Harvey has virtually stalled along the Texas coast, picking up warm water from the Gulf of Mexico and dumping torrential rain from San Antonio to Louisiana.

The Houston metro area has suffered some of the worst precipitation with certain areas expected to receive more than 50 inches (127 cm) of rain in a week, more than it typically receives for a year.

Harvey was expected to produce another 7 to 13 inches (18-33 cm) of rain through Thursday over parts of the upper Texas coast into southwestern Louisiana, the National Weather Service said.

“These stationary bands of tropical rain are very hard to time, very hard to place and are very unpredictable,” said Alek Krautmann, a weather service meteorologist in Louisiana.

Schools and office buildings were closed throughout the Houston metropolitan area, where 6.8 million people live.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency director Brock Long estimated that 30,000 people would eventually be housed temporarily in shelters.

Houston and Dallas have set up shelters in convention centers and Austin was preparing to house as many as 7,000 evacuees. More than 9,000 people packed into an overcrowded shelter in Houston, a Red Cross spokesman told CNN.

Hundreds of Houston-area roads were blocked by high water. The city’s two main airports were shut as the floods turned runways into ponds and more than a quarter million customers were without power as of Tuesday morning.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to half of U.S. refining capacity. The reduction in supply led gasoline futures to hit their highest level in two years this week as Harvey knocked out about 13 percent of total U.S. refining capacity, based on company reports and Reuters estimates.

The floods could destroy as much as $20 billion in insured property, making the storm one of the costliest in history for U.S. insurers, according to Wall Street analysts.

The Brazos River, one of the longest in the country, was forecast to crest at record highs well above flood levels on Tuesday about 30 miles (49 km) southwest of Houston, prompting authorities in Fort Bend County to order the evacuation of about 50,000 people.

For a graphic on storms in the North Atlantic, click: http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/STORM-HARVEY/010050K2197/index.html

A family arrives to high ground after they fled their home due to floods caused by Tropical Storm Harvey along Tidwell Road in east Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

A family arrives to high ground after they fled their home due to floods caused by Tropical Storm Harvey along Tidwell Road in east Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

(Additional reporting by Peter Henderson, Mica Rosenberg, Erwin Seba, Nick Oxford and Ruthy Munoz in Houston, Andy Sullivan in Rockport, Texas, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason in Washington and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Chizu Nomiyama)

Flood threat rises as Harvey dumps torrential rains on Texas

A storm chaser films himself on a camera phone as Hurricane Harvey approaches, on the boardwalk in Corpus Christi, Texas. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

By Brian Thevenot

ROCKPORT, Texas (Reuters) – The most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. state of Texas in more than 50 years moved slowly inland on Saturday, dumping torrential rain expected to cause catastrophic flooding after battering the coast with 130 miles per hour (209 km per hour) winds.

Texas utility companies said just under a quarter of a million customers were without power. Wind and rain continued to lash the coast as residents began to assess the damage.

Harvey is the strongest storm to hit Texas, the center of the U.S. oil and gas industry, since 1961.

The seaside town of Rockport, 30 miles (48 km) north of the city of Corpus Christi, was hit hard.

Several homes had collapsed, and many more buildings suffered damage. Roofs had been ripped off some, and windows blown in.

The streets were flooded and strewn with power lines and debris. At a recreational vehicle sales lot, a dozen vehicles were flipped over and one had been blown into the middle of the street outside.

“It was terrible,” resident Joel Valdez, 57, told Reuters. The storm ripped part of the roof from his trailer home at around 4 a.m., he said. “I could feel the whole house move.”

Valdez said he stayed through the storm to look after his animals.

“I have these miniature donkeys and I don’t know where they are,” he said, as he sat in a Jeep with windows smashed by the storm.

Resident Frank Cook, 56, also stayed through the storm.

“If you have something left of your house, you’re lucky,” he said, surveying the damage from his vehicle.

Before the storm hit, Rockport’s mayor told anyone staying behind to write their names on their arms for identification purposes in case of death or injury.

A high school, hotel, senior housing complex and other buildings suffered structural damage, according to emergency officials and local media. Some were being used as shelters.

The coastal city of Port Lavaca, farther north on the coast, had no power and some streets were flooded.

“There is so much tree damage and debris that the cost of cleanup will be enormous,” Mayor Jack Whitlow told Reuters, after touring the city earlier Saturday.

The hurricane came ashore near Port Lavaca late on Friday with maximum winds of 130 mph (209 km/h). That made it a Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the second-highest category and the most powerful storm in over a decade to hit the mainland United States.

The streets of Corpus Christi, which has around 320,000 residents, were deserted early on Saturday, with billboards twisted and strong winds still blowing.

City authorities asked residents to reduce use of toilets and faucets because power outages left waste water plants unable to treat sewage.

The city also asked residents to boil water before consumption.

A drill ship broke free of its mooring overnight and rammed into some tugs in the port of Corpus Christi, port executive Sean Strawbridge said. The crews on the tugs were safe, he added.

The city was under voluntary evacuation ahead of the storm.

Children sleep in a hotel lobby waiting out Hurricane Harvey in Victoria, Texas, August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Children sleep in a hotel lobby waiting out Hurricane Harvey in Victoria, Texas, August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

HEADING INLAND, STORM WEAKENS

The storm weakened to Category 1 early on Saturday and was expected to be downgraded to a tropical storm later in the day, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Harvey was about 150 miles (241 km) west-southwest of Houston, moving at about 2 mph (4 km/h), the center said in a morning update.

Harvey was expected to linger for days over Texas and bring as much as 40 inches (101.6 cm) of rain to some parts of the state.

The latest forecast storm track has Harvey looping back toward the Gulf of Mexico coast before meandering north again on Tuesday. (http://tmsnrt.rs/2g9jZ0W)

Nearly 10 inches (25 cm) of rain had already fallen in a few areas in southeastern Texas, the center said. Flash floods have already hit some areas, the National Weather Service said.

As many as 6 million people were believed to be in Harvey’s path, as is the heart of America’s oil-refining operations. The storm’s impact on refineries has already pushed up gasoline prices. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eased rules on gasoline specifications late on Friday to reduce shortages.

U.S. President Donald Trump, facing the first big natural disaster of his term, said on Twitter he signed a disaster proclamation that “unleashes the full force of government help” shortly before Harvey made landfall.

“You are doing a great job – the world is watching,” Trump said on Saturday in a tweet referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which coordinates the response to major disasters.

Utilities American Electric Power Company Inc and CenterPoint Energy Inc reported a combined total of around 237,000 customers without power.

While thousands fled the expected devastating flooding and destruction, many residents stayed put in imperiled towns and stocked up on food, fuel and sandbags.

Stewart Adams, of San Marcos, Texas, plays in the winds from Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S. August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Stewart Adams, of San Marcos, Texas, plays in the winds from Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S. August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

HOUSTON PREPARES FOR FLOODS

The size and strength dredged up memories of Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that made a direct hit on New Orleans as a Category 3 storm, causing levees and flood walls to fail in dozens of places. About 1,800 died in the disaster made worse by a slow government emergency response.

Texas and Louisiana declared states of disaster before Harvey hit, authorizing the use of state resources to prepare.

Residents of Houston, the nation’s fourth most populous city, were awakened early on Saturday by automatic cell phone warnings of flash floods.

The city warned of flooding from close to 20 inches (60 cm) of rain over several days.

A collapsed overhead gantry lies across Interstate 37, blocking the highway due to damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christie, Texas, U.S., August 26, 2017.   REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed?

A collapsed overhead gantry lies across Interstate 37, blocking the highway due to damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christie, Texas, U.S., August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed?

GASOLINE PRICES SPIKE

U.S. gasoline prices spiked as the storm shut down several refineries and 22 percent of Gulf of Mexico oil production, according to the U.S. government. Many fuel stations ran out of gasoline before the storm hit.

More than 45 percent of the country’s refining capacity is along the U.S. Gulf Coast, and nearly a fifth of the nation’s crude is produced offshore.

Ports from Corpus Christi to Texas City, Texas, were closed to incoming vessels and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Anadarko Petroleum Corp, Exxon Mobil Corp and others have evacuated staff from offshore oil and gas platforms.

Disruptions to fuel supply drove benchmark gasoline prices to their highest level in four months.

The U.S. government said it would make emergency stockpiles of crude available if needed to plug disruptions. It has regularly used them to dampen the impact of previous storms on energy supplies.

For a graphic on Hurricanes in the North Atlantic, click tmsnrt.rs/2gcckz5

(Additional reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York, Liz Hampton, Ernest Scheyder and Gary McWilliams in Houston; Writing by Brendan O’Brien and Simon Webb; Editing by Helen Popper and Matthew Lewis)