Hurricane Irma: Florida told to expect 15ft storm surges as storm closes in – latest updates

 

This article titled “Hurricane Irma: Florida told to expect 15ft storm surges as storm closes in – latest updates” was written by Alan Yuhas (now), Nicola Slawson and Claire Phipps (earlier), for theguardian.com on Saturday 9th September 2017 16.48 UTC

Cuba is suffering the worst of hurricane Irma’s winds and rain right now, as the category three storm tracks its way across land along the coast. In Miami, intermittent gusts and rainfall have given away for the moment, with the storm still over 150 miles to the south.

Irma is expected to regain strength as it heads northward, with a projected course along Florida’s west coast.

Scott: 15ft surge predicted, six million told to flee

Florida governor Rick Scott is giving another update, now with an increasingly dire forecast for the south-west coast and Tampa.

He warns that in some places storm surges could be 15ft above ground level. “Think about that. Fifteen feet is devastating and will cover your house,” he says. In Tampa, the storm surge is forecast to be five to eight feet. “The typical first story is seven to nine feet. That is a life threatening situation.”

“Do not think the storm is over when the wind slows down,” he continues. “Local officials will let you know when it’s safe. The storm surge could rush in and it could kill you.”

He pleads again with people not to take any chances, especially in evacuation zones or people who live in vulnerable mobile homes. “If you have been ordered to evacuate from anywhere in the state, you need to leave right now.”

So far 6.3 million Floridians – nearly a third of the state’s population – have been ordered to leave their homes to escape the full force of the storm.

“Do not put your life or your family’s life at risk. Right now is the right time to do the right thing for your family.”

Florida officials have asked another 700,000 to leave ahead of Hurricane Irma, the AP reports, meaning that nearly seven million Americans across several states have been ordered to evacuate.

The extraordinary evacuation is the largest in many counties’ histories, and involves a mass exodus from on of the nation’s most populous states. Miami enacted a curfew from 6pm to 9am; Broward county from 4pm until Saturday morning.

Updated

The National Weather Service is now predicting 10-20in of rain, with 20-25in in the Florida Keys and other particularly vulnerable regions.

The storm will bring “life-threatening winds” all around Florida, the agency says, “regardless of the exact track of the center”. The wind hazards will reach as far north as Georgia and South Carolina over the next day. In the southernmost points of the state, stations are bracing for the worst case scenarios.

Hurricane Irma has lost some of its force as its winds break across Cuba’s northern coast, but the island is bearing the brunt of that. Towns there have been hit by gigantic storm surges.

The National Weather Service predicts that south-west Florida’s coastline will see similar surges, possibly with flooding as high as 10-15ft.

More than 50,000 people have gone to about 300 shelters around Florida, state emergency management officials have said, from about 5.6 million people told to leave their homes in coastal stretches.

The AP reports that the Florida Keys evacuated about 460 inmates and 125 corrections officers from a jail on Stock Island, toward the bottom of the archipelago that lies in Irma’s path.

And although the storm remains about 175 miles away from the mainland, about 30,000 people in south Florida have already lost power.

Irma becomes category three storm

The National Weather Service has downgraded hurricane Irma to a cateogry three storm, with maximum sustained winds of 125mph as it hammers into Cuba’s northern coastline.

But the storm is expected to regain power as a category four as it moves away from the island and into the warm waters near south Florida and the Keys.

Local NBC reporter Amanda Plasencia is in Homestead, in Miami-Dade county just north of the Florida Keys, where the rains have already become a torrent.

Updated

South of Naples, Florida, on the state’s Gulf coast, the Tampa Bay Times’s Zack Sampson tweets that the outer bands of rain have reached the beaches.

The storm’s outer bands of rain reached southern Miami earlier on Saturday morning. The National Weather Service there reports “gusty showers” of 45-55mph, with the possibility of funnel clouds.

Broward County, just north of Miami-Dade and south of Palm Beach counties, has just announced a 4pm curfew to get people inside. Authorities have repeatedly said they would not be able to help people once the storm begins.

Updated

Scott: evacuate south-west zones before noon

Hurricane Irma is “going to go faster than you are”, Florida governor Rick Scott has warned residents, telling them that people in evacuation zones in the south-west should head to inland shelters immediately.

Storm surges in parts of Florida could be as extreme as 12ft, Scott warned: “This will cover your house.”

 

Some 25,000 people have already lost electricity as Irma’s outer bands have begun to swipe across the Keys and southernmost stretches of the peninsula. Parts of south-eastern Florida will likely hear tornado warnings over the next 24 hours as the storm tacks toward the Gulf coast.

In Miami, the winds are already mounting.

Updated

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At one of the final updates before the storm strikes the US mainland, Rick Scott, the Florida governor, has urged residents to make their final moves to shelters or to protect their homes.

“I urge everyone to talk to your neighbors, your family and friends,” Scott said. “Every Floridian should take this seriously and be aggressive to protect your family. … Your positions can be replaced, your life cannot be replaced, your family cannot be replaced.”

More than 260 shelters were open around the state, he added, and 70 more would open over the course of the day. “Everyone in Florida needs to find a safe place to go,” he said.

Traffic was moving on evacuation routes, though there was still congestion in some areas, he said. “Evacuations are not meant to be convenient – they’re meant to be safe. If you don’t need to be on the road, don’t be on the road.” Residents can go to FL511.com for updates on traffic and evacuation routes.

Scott urged people to act now, before the storm paralyzes authorities and civilians alike.
“We can’t do it once the storm starts.” He said the state was working “aggressively to keep gas stations open and filled,” but that the state’s ports were already closed and supplies would be cut off within hours.

Every available Florida guardsman has been deployed, he said, guiding people to shelters and preparing for the aftermath of the storm. “We are under a state of emergency. Healthcare staff, we need you to be there to help your community.”

Finally, Scott made a plea for more volunteers. He said: “We need 1,000 volunteer nurses for special-needs shelters.” He said nurses could visit FLHealth.gov for more information about how to help.

Vehicles move north on the Florida Turnpike from the Keys and Miami.
Vehicles move north on the Florida Turnpike from the Keys and Miami.
Photograph: UPI/Barcroft Images

Updated

As Irma continues apace throughout the Caribbean, women, children and the most vulnerable in Saint-Martin are the first to flee the island as hurricane Jose approaches.

TOPSHOT - A man walks on a street covered in debris after hurricane Irma hurricane passed on the French island of Saint-Martin, near Marigot on September 8, 2017. Officials on the island of Guadeloupe, where French aid efforts are being coordinated, suspended boat crossings to the hardest-hit territories of St Martin and St Barts where 11 people have died. Two days after Hurricane Irma swept over the eastern Caribbean, killing at least 17 people and devastating thousands of homes, some islands braced for a second battering from Hurricane Jose this weekend. / AFP PHOTO / Martin BUREAUMARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images
A street covered in debris after hurricane Irma hurricane passed over the French island of Saint-Martin.
Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

Jose has been classed as a category-4 storm, which makes it “extremely dangerous”.

Agence France-Presse has reported that the Grand-Case airport, on the French-run side, is the only way off the island and the departure hall now resembles a children’s ward in a hospital.

The tiny airport, with its single short runway, is grotesquely ill-equipped to evacuate the island’s 40,000-plus population. Therefore only the most vulnerable groups are allowed to enter the airport.

Updated

The Florida attorney general has announced that there have been 8,000 complaints following reports that airlines applied surge pricing – or price gouging – after the hurricane precipitated extreme demand.

“This is the time to help our neighbors, not take advantage of them,” declared Governor Rick Scott yesterday.

Would-be fliers have complained that prices skyrocketed as the week went on. However, some airlines have since applied price caps.

On CNN, experts are arguing whether price gouging is appropriate during emergencies in what is clearly an issue that exposes the faultlines between libertarians and social democrats.

Updated

Florida governor urges people to leave or find shelter “right now”

Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, is speaking at a press conference now.

If you have been ordered to be evacuated, leave now. Not tonight, right now.

Once the storm hits, remember law enforcement can’t safe you …

We will do everything we can, but we can’t do it once the storm starts.

He also urged people to “aggressively” protect their families.

More to follow.

Britons in the path of Hurricane Irma are being warned the “situation could deteriorate significantly” as it bears down on the US mainland.

The foreign and commonwealth office has said its ability to provide assistance may be “extremely limited” and advised those affected to make their own contingency plans.

The historic storm regained its category five status overnight before dropping back to category four on Saturday after leaving more than 20 people dead across the Caribbean.

More than six million people in Florida and Georgia have been warned to leave their homes as the hurricane continues to batter the north coast of Cuba.

Prime minister Theresa May said work was taking place with US authorities to ensure British expats and tourists in Florida are protected as millions of locals and visitors flee to safety.

But the latest travel advice issued by the government states:

Across the United States, it is important that you follow the advice of the local authorities, including any evacuation orders.

The situation could deteriorate significantly. Our ability to provide assistance may be extremely limited.

You should ensure you have your own contingency plans in place and consider your travel plans very carefully.

Aid and expertise is being provided to Britain’s territories in the region in a 32 million government cash injection.

Engineers, marines and medics are being carried on board RFA Mounts Bay, which delivered six tonnes of supplies to Anguilla and carried out repair work before moving on to the British Virgin Islands.

Those on Caribbean islands braced for a second battering, this time from Hurricane Jose, were told the storm has weakened slightly.

But forecasters warned it was still a “dangerous” category four hurricane, which is expected to come close to the devastated northern Leeward Islands on Saturday.

A hurricane warning for the Commonwealth island of Barbuda and the British territory of Anguilla has been downgraded to a tropical storm warning, while Antigua and the British Virgin Islands are on tropical storm watch.

Life-threatening wind, rain and a storm surge are expected in the Turks and Caicos Islands, another British territory, into Saturday, after it was “pummelled” by Irma on Thursday night.

The foreign office has set up a hotline for people affected by the disaster and for people whose loved ones may be affected, on 020 7008 0000.

Updated

Hurricane Jose is set to make landfall in the eastern Caribbean islands already ravaged by Hurricane Irma.

Richard Branson has published an update on the situation in the British Virgin Islands before the new storm hits.

He said:

Governments – the UK in the British Virgin Islands, the US in the US Virgin Islands – need to do all they can to help people here who have lost their homes and in many cases will have lost their livelihoods after the storm.

Man-made climate change is contributing to increasingly strong hurricanes causing unprecedented damage. The whole world should be scrambling to get on top of the climate change issue before it is too late – for this generation, let alone the generations to come.

We are hopeful Hurricane Jose will not hit the BVI as hard as Hurricane Irma did, but urging everyone to get prepared and helping with supplies where we can.

Updated

My colleague Ed Pilkington is in Miami and has this update on the atmosphere as Hurricane Irma heads towards Florida:

Amid the relentless news of devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Irma, millions of Floridians bracing for one of the strongest storms to hit the US mainland this century will clutch at any good news, and they got some this morning.

In the 8am advisory from the National Hurricane Center, which is being watched here in South Florida with almost biblical zeal, the weather experts told us that the hurricane’s winds had slowed from about 155mph to 130mph as a little of its terrifying energy was soaked up by the landmass on the coast of Cuba.

The hope that the weather analysts gave with one hand, they took away with the other, however. “Irma is forecast to restrengthen once it moves away from Cuba,” the advisory goes on to say, “and Irma is expected to remain a powerful hurricane as it approaches Florida.”

That spells certain catastrophe now for the Florida Keys, which is expected to be struck by Irma very early on Sunday morning. Thousands of people have already left the Keys, though as the Miami Herald is reporting some die-hards are clinging on which seems rash bearing in mind the threat of a storm surge of up to 10ft.

It also spells trouble for the west coast of Florida where Irma is continuing to target given a slight westward veer in the past 24 hours. The impact could reach as far north as Tampa Bay, which hasn’t experienced a major hurricane since 1921.

Irma is now 215 miles south of Miami and moving north at a speed of 12mph. In Miami the first power outages – of 26,000 homes – have been reported, but hopes are rising that some of the worst of the damage may be avoided as the strife swings towards the west coast.

Nonetheless, the streets of the city were virtually empty on Saturday morning, and all petrol stations, supermarkets and other commercial outlets were closed. The city of 6 million people is now in a stunned state of foreboding, waiting to find out what nature has in store for the fourth-largest urban area.

Updated

The Cuban dolphins aren’t the only animals to be evacuated thanks to Hurricane Irma.

These roosters are being taken to safety in Florida, wrapped in newspaper jackets or “burritos” to avoid any squabbles on the car journey.

Meanwhile, staff at Ernest Hemingway’s home, which is now a museum, are defying the evacuation order, in the hope of safeguarding the property and its famous six-toed cats.

The 19th-century Hemingway Home Museum in Key West has been boarded up, with the storm heading straight for it.

Staff of the Hemingway Home Museum with some of the cats.
Staff of the Hemingway Home Museum with some of the cats.
Photograph: Hemingway Home Museum via Facebook

The museum’s 54 cats, who are all descendants of the late author’s own cats, will be looked after by 10 members of staff.

Updated

The Guardian has spoken to Joe Farrar from Manchester, who is on holiday in Varadero, Cuba with his girlfriend, Helen. He says he was meant to leave Cuba on Friday, but Thomas Cook delayed his flight. He says Canadian tourists had been evacuated from the resort complex, but British tourists have been left at the hotel.

Hurricane Irma is set to hit the peninsula tonight.

Farrar told the Guardian:

We’re a bit scared. We’ve been left in limbo. They told us that they’ll turn off the power when the storm hits. If it gets really bad, we have to get in the bathroom.

The hotel staff have been brilliant to us. We are alright, but there’s a couple here who need medication and they’re running out. I’m sure we will be fine – we have crisps.

He posted this video on Twitter:

Thomas Cook have released travel advice for Varadero, and say they are monitoring the situation on the ground.

 

Updated

Hurricane Irma begins lashing Florida

The window for Florida residents to safely evacuate narrowed on Saturday as strong winds and outer rain bands hit the southern part of the state on a predicted path for landfall southwest of the heavily populated Miami metro area.

Hurricane Irma is currently moving along the coast of Cuba about 215 miles away from Miami, as it makes its way towards the US peninsula.

Florida Begins Preparing For Hurricane IrmaMIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 09: The skyline is seen as the outerbands of Hurricane Irma start to reach Florida on September 9, 2017 in Miami, Florida. Florida is in the path of the Hurricane which may come ashore at category 4. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Miami, early on Saturday morning.
Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Forecasters expect the storm to pick strength back up as it moves away from Cuba adter it weakened to a category 4 level storm.

The National Weather Service said damaging winds were moving into areas including Key Biscayne and Coral Gables on Saturday morning, while gusts of up to 56 mph (90 kph) were reported on Virginia Key off Miami.

Forecasters adjusted the storm’s potential track more toward the west coast of Florida, away from the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people, meaning “a less costly, a less deadly storm,” University of Miami researcher Brian McNoldy said.

Nevertheless, forecasters warned that its hurricane-force winds were so wide they could reach from coast to coast, testing the nation’s third-largest state, which has undergone rapid development and more stringent hurricane-proof building codes in the last decade or so.

“This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,” National Hurricane Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said. “Everybody’s going to feel this one.”

In one of the country’s largest evacuations, about 5.6 million people in Florida more than one-quarter of the state’s population were ordered to leave, and another 540,000 were ordered out on the Georgia coast. Authorities opened hundreds of shelters for people who did not leave. Hotels as far away as Atlanta filled up with evacuees.

Parts of Florida are already experiencing power outages, according to reports on social media.

Some shelters are already at full capacity and others are filling fast. Perry Stein, a reporter for the Washington Post is in west Miami dade, which is beginning to feel the affects of the hurricane.

The UK government has pledged to double any public donations made to the British Red Cross appeal for victims of Hurricane Irma.

For every £1 given towards the relief effort in the Caribbean, another £1 will be added through the department for international development’s aid match scheme, up to £3m.

Donations will support people through the region, including in the badly hit British Overseas Territories of Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos.

Priti Patel, secretary of state for international development, says:

Today we are announcing we will double any public donations which are made to the British Red Cross appeal through DFID’s Aid Match scheme.

The overwhelming generosity of the UK public in times of crisis is one of the things that makes Britain truly great.

This will help get water, food, shelter and power to those left devastated by Hurricane Irma.

This donation is on top of the £32m already pledged by the government.‎

Mike Adamson, chief executive of British Red Cross, says:

We would like to thank DFID for supporting our Hurricane Irma appeal, raising urgent funds for those affected by this devastating disaster. The most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic has left major destruction in its wake.

Red Cross teams are on the ground now supporting people in shelters, providing first aid and doing whatever they can to help.

The pledge came after Patel visited her department’s disaster response centre in Kemble, Gloucestershire on Friday.

About 10,000 UK aid buckets and 5,000 UK solar lanterns were being prepared at the centre while she was there and it is hoped they would reach those in need in the next few days.

Patel also pledged on Friday to double the number of humanitarian experts in the region from four to eight, who are now working in the field across several islands to assess need. Further advisors are expected to arrive in the coming days.

Updated

South Florida is experiencing “damaging winds” as Irma approaches

Meteorologists have reported that damaging winds are blowing into South Florida as Hurricane Irma continues its menacing approach on the US mainland.

The National Weather Service say that damaging winds are moving into areas including Key Biscayne, Coral Gables and South Miami.

Gusts of up to 56 mph (90 kph) were reported on Virginia Key off Miami as the storm’s outer bands arrived. The centre of the storm was about 245 miles south-east of Miami early on Saturday as it raked the northern coast of Cuba.

Life-threatening storm surges of far greater speeds are likely to follow. CNN reports the storm could reach 140mph.

The latest forecast track predicts the centre of the storm will move along Florida’s Gulf Coast throughout Monday.

Updated

The British Army and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary are delivering aid to those affected by Hurricane Irma.

Pictures released on Twitter show soldiers passing supplies along a chain and shelter kits, water and medical supplies being loaded onto a helicopter.

The UK government has also pledged to double any public donations to the British Red Cross’ public appeal, the charity announced on Saturday.

The efforts follow criticism of Theresa May on Friday for the government’s lacklustre response to the natural disaster.

The chairs of the UK’s foreign affairs and development select committees have asked the government to explain its response to Hurricane Irma, which has been widely deemed as inadequate.

“Experts and many in the area have been critical of the overall level of relief currently on offer as well as the apparent lack of forward-thinking once the storm’s route to Florida became more than just a possibility,” Tom Tugendhat and Stephen Twigg wrote.

On Friday following a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee, May said:

I heard directly from our consul general in Miami about the support that is being given to British nationals living in Florida and also British tourists in Florida.

We are, of course, working with the US authorities to ensure that every support is available and everything can be done before Hurricane Irma reaches Florida.

Updated

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office have released an updated advisory on US travel saying that its ability to assist British people in Florida may be limited and anyone there should follow advice from local authorities.

It is unknown how many Brits are currently in Florida, a popular holiday destination for families and older people.

The statement said:

Across the United States it is important that you follow the advice of the local authorities, including any evacuation orders. The situation could deteriorate significantly. Our ability to provide assistance may be extremely limited. You should ensure you have your own contingency plans in place and consider your travel plans very carefully.

Cuba prides itself on hurricane preparations, and Irma is no different. Over 1 million Cubans were evacuated before the storm, according to local media. Even dolphins have been transported to safety.

 

Six dolphins were transported by helicopter from a dophinarium in Cayo Guillermo island in the north of Cuba to protective swimming pools in Cienfuegos on Thursday.

Updated

Lunchtime summary

Here’s a summary of what we know so far if you are just joining me.

  • Hurricane Irma, has dipped down to category-4 intensity, is still heading towards Florida after making landfall in Cuba.
  • Irma is forecast to hit the Florida Keys on Sunday morning, moving over south-west Florida by Sunday afternoon, then crossing the entire state over approximately 30 hours of ferocious winds and rains.
  • On Saturday, Irma continues to bash the north coast of Cuba, where it first hit the Camaguey archipelago on Friday night. With the sun rising, the full extent of the damage will soon become clear.
  • Florida has ordered 5.6 million people – a quarter of the state’s population – to evacuate, saying that those who do not leave cannot expect rescue services to reach them once Irma hits. A curfew comes into effect in Palm Beach from 3pm local time on Saturday.
  • Saturday will also see tropical storm-force winds lash Florida, ahead of Irma’s arrival. Outer rain bands have already reached the peninsula.
  • At least 23 people have been confirmed killed in the Caribbean so far. The first victim of Irma was two-year-old Carl Junior Francis in Barbuda. Eleven died on French St Martin and St Barts, four in the US Virgin Islands, three on Puerto Rico, two on Dutch St Maarten and one in Anguilla. A teenage surfer died off Barbados in waves churned up by Irma, and four deaths were reported on the British Virgin Islands that have yet to be corroborated.
  • Clear-up efforts on Caribbean islands – to which Britain, France and the Netherlands have sent support – have been hampered by the approaching Hurricane Jose.
  • Jose is forecast to hit islands already ravaged by Irma – including Barbuda, Anguilla, St Maarten, St Martin and St Barthélemy – from Saturday. Hurricane Jose, currently a category 4, is “almost category 5”, the US National Hurricane Center has said.
  • But Katia – formerly a category-1 hurricane as it made landfall in Mexico – has been downgraded to a tropical storm.

Updated

Frozen star Josh Gad has described his co-star Kristen Bell as “an angel sent from above” after she helped his family who were caught up in Hurricane Irma.

Gad, who voices snowman Olaf in the animated hit, said Bell arranged for a hotel room for his parents when they were stranded in Florida as the US state braced for the storm to hit.

He shared a picture of Bell, who voices Princess Anna in the film, with his parents on both Instagram and Twitter.

On Instagram he captioned it:

So @kristenanniebell literally saved my parents and my entire family tonight from hurricane irma.

When they were stranded in Florida, she got them a hotel room at her hotel in Orlando and saved them, my brothers, my sister-in-law and niece and nephew.

They don’t make them like this girl. Thank you Kristen. You are truly an angel sent from above.

Bell previously said she had been moved by the community spirit she witnessed as she prepared to hunker down in Orlando to wait out the hurricane.

She shared a photograph of herself at the supermarket stocking up on food and bottled water:

Updated

Where would American disasters be without fake news circulating online? Hoax articles about Hurricane Irma are being pumped out by hastily created sites but, luckily, Snopes – a leading fact-checking site – has been assiduously debunking their false truths.

One viral message claimed that the 2005 movie Category 7: The End of the World predicted the arrival of hurricanes named Harvey and Irma. However, according to Snopes, none of the storms or hurricanes in the movie are called Harvey or Irma.

“Atlantic hurricanes are named from a prescribed list of names that are rotated every six years and published in advance,” wrote Dan McGill. “So we already know the list of potential hurricane names for 2018, 2019, and every year for the foreseeable future, unless they are changed by the World Meteorological Association.”

Elsewhere, an aerial image of the hurricane accompanied by a news ticker purporting that the storm had airlifted several sharks went viral after someone created it on BreakYourOwnNews.com.

Some of those who shared the post are likely to have been duped and Snopes confirmed that the hurricane is not, in fact, a sharknado.

Updated

A British man and his family are “lucky to be alive” after they survived Hurricane Irma.

Brendan Joyce, his wife Sasha, her father and their children sheltered in his father-in-law’s house as the storm tore across Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

Undated family handout photo of husband and wife, Brendan and wife Sasha Joyce and their children Keiran and Aiden, after they survived being in the eye wall of Hurricane Irma.
Brendan and wife Sasha Joyce and their children Keiran and Aiden.
Photograph: Family Handout/PA

The adults lay on top of the children, aged two and four, to protect them as the winds battered the house. When they emerged, the other rooms had been swept away, with only the room they had sheltered in surviving.

His sister Frances Joyce, from Glasgow, has spoken to him and said he is devastated by what has happened and worried for the future.

She said:

The first time he phoned, he phoned me in tears and said, ‘we’re alive, there’s nothing else.’ He is really worried about food and shelter, and worried about how it’s going to pan out. They have two little boys as well, so they are trying to keep them calm.

Back in Scotland we’re devastated as a family. We feel so helpless as we can’t do anything for them, they’re away over there. It’s amazing that they are alive.

Joyce, 44, from Glasgow, has lived on the island for more than 10 years and works as a marina manager at Nanny Cay. His wife Sasha, 34, is from the island and his children Keiran, four, and Aiden, two, were born there.

Sasha’s cousin Clare Parker, who lives in London, said:

My aunt and uncle have lived in the British Virgin Islands for nearly 50 years and have survived many, many hurricanes, but they realised that this was a hugely significant one and took all the precautions. They shuttered up and took shelter in a back bedroom that’s the most secure.

They were all in that room with the adults lying on top of the small children. When they came out, the eyewall of the tornado had ripped the concrete house apart.

They walked out of there alive, which is miraculous and we are so grateful for it. They are feeling lucky to be alive.

She said more aid was vital to help the people on the islands, with food and generators among the things needed.

Updated

Here’s more details on Hurricane Irma weakening to category 4 and the status on the other hurricanes in the area.

Associated Press reports:

The National Hurricane Center says Irma has weakened slightly to a category-4 hurricane, as it moves over the Camaguey Archipelago of Cuba.

Irma had briefly regained category-5 strength late on Friday, but now has maximum sustained winds of 155 mph (249 kph). The hurricane is about 245 miles from Miami and moving about 12 mph toward the west-northwest.

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose is a category-4 hurricane, about 190 miles east-southeast of the Northern Leeward Islands, moving toward the islands at 13 mph with winds reaching 150 mph.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia made landfall late on Friday north of Tecolutla, Mexico and weakened to a tropical storm. By early Saturday morning it was 135 miles south of Tampico, Mexico, moving sluggishly at only 2 mph near the Sierra Madre mountains with maximum winds of 40 mph. It was expected to weaken further throughout the day.

Updated

Universal Studios Florida has joined Disney World, Legoland and SeaWorld by shutting its doors as Irma heads for Florida.

A statement from the theme park said they would close at 7pm UTC on Saturday. The statement continued:

We will be fully closed on Sunday and Monday and we anticipate normal operating hours on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Our on-site hotels are currently at full capacity and will remain operational as they focus on taking care of our on-sire guests.

Sam Branson, son of Virgin billionaire Richard Branson, says he is heading to help those devastated by Hurricane Irma on the British Virgin Islands, where his family owns an island.

The Branson family was caught up in the hurricane and took refuge in the wine cellar under their house on Necker Island.

“Going to be harrowing to see my home and so many others beloved place so decimated but will do all I can to get aid to the people that need it most,” he says on a video posted to Instagram.

He has appealed on the popular social media platform for others to come help. “If you have boats, then please get them to the BVI,” he says.

George W Bush’s presidency never fully recovered from his botched handling of Hurricane Katrina. Barack Obama won re-election just days after Hurricane Sandy struck. So how can presidents respond effectively to natural disasters? And how has Donald Trump managed the response to Harvey and Irma?

A history of hurricanes: how US presidents have responded

President Trump’s “reckless” attitude to climate change is being shown to be folly as Hurricane Irma tears towards Florida, a major charity has said.

Miami, in the south of the state, topped the list of most vulnerable cities to climate change induced coastal flooding, in a report produced by Christian Aid last year.

Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid’s international climate lead, said on Saturday morning:

We’re starting to see what happens when climate breakdown occurs on a global scale. As well as Hurricane Irma we currently have two other hurricanes in the west Atlantic, Jose and Katia, not to mention the destruction from Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

While we’re seeing the richest country on earth struggling to cope with the devastation of extreme weather, don’t forget the 40 million people affected by floods in South Asia, an area without anywhere near the same infrastructure or resources to cope.

Trump’s promise to withdraw from the Paris climate accord and undoing President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is the exact opposite of what we need to see in the face of this lethal reality.

As seas get warmer, providing more energy to tropical storms, the people of Florida and the Caribbean will continue to suffer until leaders like Trump start to reduce the carbon emissions which drive climate change.

The city of Miami is particularly vulnerable with more than $3.5 trillion of assets at risk from flooding by 2070. In its report, the charity showed American cities would face the financial brunt of coastal flooding by 2070 with New York coming third with $2.1 trillion.
Mr Adow added:

The cost of the reckless climate policies espoused by Donald Trump will be paid in the lives of people living in these places and the trillions of dollars lost in places like Miami and New York, not to mention the economic disruption and the money needed to rebuild cities suffering from floods and storm damage.

That is why if we don’t invest now in low carbon infrastructure to decarbonise our economies we will end up paying for it later.

Updated

Dutch marines have dropped flyers from a helicopter warning inhabitants on the devastated nation of St. Maarten to head to shelters as Hurricane Jose heads its way, following in Irma’s path.

Jose, a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds, was forecast to pass close to St. Maarten over the weekend, delivering a second damaging blow to the former Dutch colony that suffered catastrophic damage when Category 5 Hurricane Irma slammed into it on Wednesday.

Peter Jan de Vin, a Dutch military commander on the island of Curacao who is helping coordinate relief efforts on St. Maarten, tweeted a picture Saturday morning of a marine dropping flyers out of a helicopter flying low over one of St. Maarten’s shattered seafront neighborhoods.

Hurricane Irma has “weakened” to a category 4 storm

Hurricane Irma, which is passing over north Cuba, is now a category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, according to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center.

However, it is still being described as “powerful and large”.

More to follow.

Some good news as Storm Katia – formerly a category one hurricane – rapidly weakened after it made landfall near the beach resort of Tecolutla in the state of Veracruz on the Mexican Gulf coast, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Katia was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm as it was about 110 miles (175 km) northwest of Veracruz, Mexico with sustained winds of 45 mph (70 kmh), the center said in an advisory.

Mexico is also dealing with the aftermath of a powerful earthquake on Thursday night. The quake, the strongest to strike the country in more than 80 years, killed at least 61 people.

More on that story here:

Patrick Oppmann, Cuba correspondent for CNN, is live tweeting his experiences as Irma gives Cuba “holy hell”.

Palm trees sway in the wind prior to the arrival of the Hurricane Irma in Caibarien, Cuba, September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Palm trees sway in the wind prior to the arrival of the Hurricane Irma in Caibarien, Cuba.
Photograph: Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

He said:

Irma giving Cuba holy hell right now; winds do not let up.

Water is half way up the 1st floor of house I am in. We should be fine, many others will not.

Pitch dark and the wind screaming. What a night.

Cat 5 Irma battering Cuba right now, watching waves roll down street I walked yesterday.

Flood waters surround house me and my team are in & going up. Will be here for a while.

With Hurricane Jose gaining in strength and hot on the heels of Irma – which left 90% of the island of Barbuda devastated – almost all of its population of around 1,400 people has been evacuated to the larger sister island of Antigua.

Only a few people “resisted the call” to evacuate.

Hurricane Jose has “almost” reached category five strength, with top winds of 155 mph (250kmh) as it heads towards the eastern Caribbean islands ravaged by Hurricane Irma.

Florida Prepares For Major Hit By Hurricane IrmaCARIBBEAN SEA - SEPTEMBER 8: In this NASA/NOAA handout image, NOAA’s GOES satellite shows Hurricane Irma (C) in the Caribbean Sea, Tropical Storm Jose (R) in the Atlantic Ocean and Tropical Storm Katia in the Gulf of Mexico taken at 15:45 UTC on September 08, 2017. Hurricane Irma barreled through the Turks and Caicos Islands as a category 4 storm en route to a destructive encounter with Florida this weekend. (Photo by NASA/NOAA GOES Project via Getty Images)
Hurricane Jose, right, follows closely behind Hurricane Irma, centre, with Hurricane Katia to the left.
Photograph: Handout/Getty Images

Jose was about 240 miles (390km) east-southeast of the northern Leeward Islands on Saturday morning and was forecast to hit the outlying Caribbean islands later in the day.

The US national hurricane centre said that “air force hurricane hunters find Jose even stronger … almost a category 5 hurricane”.

It issued hurricane warnings for the eastern Caribbean islands of Barbuda and Anguilla, Sint Maarten, St Martin and St Barthelemy. A hurricane watch was in effect for Antigua, while tropical storm watch was is in effect for Montserrat, St Kitts, and Nevis, British Virgin Islands, and St Thomas and St John.

More on that story here:

Matt Taylor, a broadcast meteorologist for the BBC, has commented on the language used in a tweet from the National Weather Service (NWS) in Key West, Florida, which urged people to evacuate.

The tweet said: “THIS IS AS REAL AS IT GETS… NOWHERE IN THE FLORIDA KEYS WILL BE SAFE … YOU STILL HAVE TIME TO EVACUATE”.

Taylor has tweeted that meteorologists normally use reserved language so when you see this issued you know it’s the “real deal”.

Barbuda victim named as Carl Junior Francis

This is Nicola Slawson in the UK taking over from Claire. I’ll be keeping you up to date throughout the day on Hurricane Irma.

The first victim of Irma was two-year-old Carl Junior Francis, Associated Press reports:

On Barbuda, a coral island rising a mere 125ft (38m) above sea level, authorities ordered an evacuation of all 1,400 people to neighbouring Antigua, where Stevet Jeremiah was reunited with one son and made plans to bury another.

Jeremiah, who sells lobster and crab to tourists, was huddled in her wooden home on Barbuda early Wednesday with her partner and their two- and four-year-old boys as Irma ripped open their metal roof and sent the ocean surging into the house.

Her younger son, Carl Junior Francis, was swept away. Neighbours found his body after sunrise.

“Two years old. He just turned two, the 17th, last month. Just turned two,” she repeated.

Her first task, she said, would be to organise his funeral. “That’s all I can do. There is nothing else I can do.”

Florida forecast

The weather service for Florida’s Tampa Bay has issued a stark warning of the expected impact of Irma as it sweeps across the state.

The hurricane is forecast to hit the Florida Keys from Sunday morning and move north across the state – but tropical storm-force winds are expected from Saturday morning, within hours. Wind speeds are already elevated and the outer rain bands of the hurricane have brushed the east Florida coast.

The NWS Tampa Bay statement warns:

Irma is a large and broad hurricane, so regardless of the exact track of the centre of the storm, there will be impacts felt across the peninsula.

It is expected to turn north towards south-west Florida later today [Saturday], brining hurricane-force winds to much of the local area Sunday afternoon through early Monday. Hurricane-force wind gusts will likely be experienced across the entire peninsula through early Monday …

Storm surge flooding is expected across much of the Florida Gulf coast.

Heavy rainfall will spread northward beginning late Saturday and continuing through early Monday. The heaviest rainfall is expected north and east of the centre of the storm, where local amounts may exceed 15 inches (38cm) in some areas!

Inland flooding and storm surge combined account for the most deaths when it comes to hurricanes.

Finally we can expect a few tornadoes within the hurricane’s outer rain bands beginning later today and lasting into Sunday night.

Updated

What we know so far

Welcome to our continuing live coverage of Hurricane Irma – now with Hurricane Jose on its heels.

Here are the latest updates:

  • Hurricane Irma, which briefly dipped to category four intensity, is now back up to category five and has made landfall in Cuba.
  • Irma is now forecast to hit the Florida Keys on Sunday morning, moving over south-west Florida by Sunday afternoon, then crossing the entire state over approximately 30 hours of ferocious winds and rains.
  • On Saturday, Irma continues to rake the north coast of Cuba, where it first hit the Camaguey archipelago on Friday night. It is the first category five storm to make landfall in Cuba for almost a century.
  • Saturday will also see tropical storm-force winds lash Florida, ahead of Irma’s arrival. Outer rain bands have already reached the peninsula.
  • Florida has ordered 5.6 million people – a quarter of the state’s population – to evacuate, warning that those who do not leave cannot expect rescue services to reach them once Irma hits. A curfew comes into effect in Palm Beach from 3pm on Saturday.
  • Florida governor Rick Scott warned on Friday:

If you are planning to leave and do not leave tonight, you will have to ride out this extremely dangerous storm at your own risk.

  • In Georgia, 540,000 people on the coast received mandatory evacuation orders.
  • The Bahamas meteorological office said the main island of New Providence had been spared the worst as Irma passed close by, but the southern Bahamas had been more badly hit.
  • At least 23 people have been confirmed killed in the Caribbean so far. The first victim of Irma was two-year-old Carl Junior Francis in Barbuda. Eleven died on French St Martin and St Barts, four in the US Virgin Islands, three on Puerto Rico, two on Dutch St Maarten and one in Anguilla. A teenage surfer died off Barbados in waves churned up by Irma, and four deaths were reported on the British Virgin Islands that have yet to be corroborated.
  • Clear-up efforts on Caribbean islands – to which Britain, France and the Netherlands have sent support – have been hampered by the approaching Hurricane Jose.
  • Jose is forecast to hit islands already ravaged by Irma – including Barbuda, Anguilla, St Maarten, St Martin and St Barthélemy – from Saturday. Hurricane Jose, currently a category four, is “almost category five”, the US National Hurricane Center has said.
  • But Katia – formerly a category one hurricane as it made landfall in Mexico – has been downgraded to a tropical storm.

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Hurricane Irma: Florida told to expect 15ft storm surges as storm closes in – latest updates | NORTH INDIA KALEIDOSCOPE

Rajesh Ahuja

I am a veteran journalist based in Chandigarh India.I joined the profession in June 1982 and worked as a Staff Reporter with the National Herald at Delhi till June 1986. I joined The Hindu at Delhi in 1986 as a Staff Reporter and was promoted as Special Correspondent in 1993 and transferred to Chandigarh. I left The Hindu in September 2012 and launched my own newspaper ventures including this news portal and a weekly newspaper NORTH INDIA KALEIDOSCOPE (currently temporarily suspended).