Hurricane Irma heads to Florida leaving trail of devastation

Another two storms, Jose and Katia, have strengthened to hurricanes

Hurricane Irma
(Image credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Hurricane Irma has swept across the Turks and Caicos islands, destroying property and claiming lives, and is moving towards the US state of Florida, where some 500,000 people have been told to evacuate their homes.

The category 5 storm, with winds of up to 185mph, is forecast to make landfall in the US on Sunday – or earlier – after passing over the Bahamas and Cuba. It is expected to bring 20ft storm surges.

At least 14 people have been killed by Irma, and the Red Cross estimates that a total of 1.2 million have been “battered” by the storm. Last night, the charity predicted this figure would to rise to 26 million as the storm passed the more densely populated regions of Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

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Almost every building on Barbuda was damaged when Irma made landfall on the island on Wednesday, says the Red Cross, while the neighbouring island of Saint Martin was “almost destroyed”. The British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Barts, Saint Kitts and Nevis have also been hit.

The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, described scenes of “total carnage” and said Barbuda was now “literally rubble”. He added: “The entire housing stock was damaged. It is just total devastation.”

Irma also left a trail of destruction across Puerto Rico. Shortly before the storm swept through the US territory, on Wednesday night, governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN: “The winds that we are experiencing right now are like nothing we have experienced before. We expect a lot of damage, perhaps not as much as was seen in Barbuda.”

The Red Cross has called for "a massive, multi-country relief and recovery effort".

However, the UK's response in providing aid to the UK overseas territories affected - Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos - was dismissed as "too slow" and "pathetic" by the former UK representative to Anguilla. Dorothea Hodge said on Wednesday that it was “disgraceful” that “it has taken the whole day for [International Development Secretary] Priti Patel to respond to the worst hurricane we have seen in a British territory since the 1920s”.

Yesterday Theresa's May's government released £32m in aid, The Guardian reports. The UK is also sending a task force to help reconstruction: it includes the Navy ship HMS Ocean, carrying three helicopters, which will take between ten and 14 days to arrive.

The next storms: Jose and Katia

Even as Irma brings further devastation to the region, two other Atlantic storms have strengthened to become hurricanes.

Hurricane Jose is expected to follow in the wake of Irma at the weekend, with winds of up to 129mph. Hurricane Katia is expected to hit Mexico’s east coast this evening. The country’s west coast is already in turmoil after being hit by tsunamis triggered by a major earthquake in the early hours today.

Hurricane Irma most powerful storm ever recorded in Atlantic

06 September

The most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic has made landfall in the Caribbean.

Hurricane Irma, now a category 5 storm, has passed directly over the Caribbean island of Barbuda, and also hit its sister island of Antigua, “lashing both with winds of up to 185mph and heavy rain”, says The Guardian.

The eye of the storm hit the island of Barbuda, which has a population of around 2,000 people, shortly before 2am local time.

“Winds gusted at 155 mph, before the recording equipment broke and no further readings were received,” reports the BBC.

People on the islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis, which Irma is due to hit next, have been ordered to stay indoors. The prime minister of the islands, Timothy Harris, warned that the impact of the hurricane is forecast to be “extremely dangerous”.

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Meanwhile, the Bahamas government is launching the “largest evacuation in its history”, according to the archipelago's PM, Hubert Minnis. Plans have been made to fly residents from the southeast islands to the safer capital, Nassau, as soon as possible.

The hurricane is also forecast to hit the islands of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turks and Caicos, and Cuba, and could then potentially head for the southeast coast of the US at the end of the week.

The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Irma was “potentially catastrophic” and warned that “preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion” in the islands in its immediate path.

The NHC’s lead forecaster, Michael Brennan, reported seeing "storm surges of 7ft to 11ft - that's certainly life-threatening - and very, very heavy flooding rainfall" in the far northeastern Caribbean islands, as well as “winds that could cause catastrophic damage near the eye wall”.

“Category 5 hurricanes are rare and are capable of inflicting life-threatening winds, storm surges and rainfall,” says CNN. Hurricane Harvey, by comparison, was a category 4.

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The Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale describes category 5 as: “Catastrophic damage will occur: a high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

US President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency for Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, enabling federal disaster relief efforts to be mobilised in those areas.

Walter Cotte, the US regional director of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the forecast was “extremely worrying” and added he was “anticipating major impacts on a number of islands”.

He said: “We are especially worried that Irma could affect areas that have been suffering with severe rainfall in the past months.

“One of the main challenges is going to be logistical, given the isolation of some the islands. We need to ensure a reliable channel for relief efforts in the aftermath of the hurricane.”

Hurricane Irma advances on the Caribbean

05 September

Several Caribbean islands are bracing themselves for the arrival of Hurricane Irma, which is gaining strength and has been upgraded to a category four storm.

"The hurricane had sustained winds of up to 215km/h (130mph) and was likely to strengthen in the next 48 hours," the BBC reports.

Irma is expected to affect parts of the Leeward Islands, the British and US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in the coming days, and may reach the southern states of the US.

"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," the US National Hurricane Centre said.

Irma's path remains uncertain, but Florida Governor Rick Scott has put his state on an emergency footing. "In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared," Scott told CNN.

Hurricane Irma comes on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which caused catastrophic flooding throughout parts of Texas and Louisiana last week.

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