Hurricane Irma live updates: warning issued for Florida as storm pummels Haiti and Bahamas

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Hurricane Irma live updates: warning issued for Florida as storm pummels Haiti and Bahamas” was written by Claire Phipps (now) and Alan Yuhas (earlier), for theguardian.com on Friday 8th September 2017 03.54 UTC

Hurricane Jose is making its way towards Caribbean islands already battered by Irma.

The US National Hurricane Center says Jose – a category 3 hurricane – “is expected to be near the northern Leeward Islands on Saturday”.

This covers Barbuda, Antigua and Anguilla, the islands first hit by Irma.

The Miami weather service has warned people in south Florida to make urgent plans to seek safety, saying:

This is a potentially deadly situation!

Residents and visitors must now implement emergency safety plans.

Preparations to protect life and property should be completed by Friday night.

Take final shelter by early Saturday morning.

Latest hurricane warnings

The US National Hurricane Center says the following locations are now subject to official hurricane warnings:

  • Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach
  • Florida Keys
  • Lake Okeechobee
  • Florida Bay
  • Haiti from the northern border with the Dominican Republic to Le Mole St Nicholas
  • South-eastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands
  • Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, and Villa Clara
  • Central Bahamas
  • North-western Bahamas

Hurricane Irma breaks yet another record – now the longest lasting Atlantic storm this year:

Irma is currently over the Turks and Caicos Islands, moving westwards towards the south-eastern Bahamas throughout Thursday night.

The hurricane will then track between the Bahamas and northern Cuba before hitting southern Florida.

This latest forecast says “severe hurricane conditions” are now expected to begin to hit the Florida peninsula and Florida Keys late on Saturday.

Storm surges and high winds are expected to hit the southern part of the state.

Updated

The advice from the US National Hurricane Center has moved Florida into the official hurricane warning group for the first time.

The areas covered by the warnings cover south Florida and the Florida Keys.

As the NHC explains:

A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.

A storm surge warning means there is a danger of life-threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline, during the next 36 hours in the indicated locations.

This is a life-threatening situation. Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions. Promptly follow evacuation and other instructions from local officials.

Hurricane and storm surge warnings issued for Florida

The latest update from the US National Hurricane Center issues upgraded warnings for South Florida and the Florida Keys:

  • A hurricane warning has been issued from Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach, as well as for the Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee, and Florida Bay.
  • A storm surge warning has been issued from Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach, as well as for the Florida Keys.

“We had cars flying over our head, we had 40ft containers flying left and right,” said Knacyntar Nedd, chairwoman of the Barbuda council. “People were literally tying themselves to roofs with ropes to hold them down.”

“What we experienced is like something you see in a horror movie, not something you expect to actually happen in reality,” Nedd told the local ABS television.

Among the most traumatised survivors were those who tried to ride Irma out at home. “When the first part came, it was like the whole house was ripping apart,” said Jacqueline Bisa, who was in her home with seven relatives.

They took shelter in a closet and the bathroom but the winds were so fierce they had to hang on to the door to keep it closed until they could be evacuated. “It was like it was sucking us up,” she said the next morning.

Several older residents with long experience of the fierce winds churned up by the Atlantic in hurricane season described Irma as unprecedented.

“Last night was the most devastating experience I have had in my life and I am almost 60,” said a man who gave his name as King Goldilocks. “Who hasn’t lost their roof, their house crumbled, like me? I am totally homeless.”

As well as winds of 185mph (295kph), Irma also dumped 11 inches (28cm) of rain on parts of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as it passed:

Cuba is evacuating tourists as Irma approaches, Reuters reports:

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

That included all Canadian tourists, who Cuban tourism minister Manuel Marrero estimated made up 60% of foreign visitors in the country’s keys.

In Caibarien, a coastal town in the hurricane’s predicted path, residents piled mattresses and a television in a car to get farther inland.

“The roof here is rotten so it will just fly away. Everything will get ruined if we leave it here,” said Miriam Faife. “I’m scared.”

Police escort a convoy of buses carrying tourists evacuated from Caibarien.
Police escort a convoy of buses carrying tourists evacuated from Caibarien.
Photograph: Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images

Haiti has felt the edges of Hurricane Irma as it careered away from the Dominican Republic towards the Turks and Caicos Islands, and reports so far suggest it has been spared the worst effects of the category 5.

But the north of Haiti, including the port city of Cap-Haïtien, have experienced heavy rainfall and strong winds from Irma’s outer fringes as it passed. There are reports of buildings damaged and trees felled.

Two people were reportedly injured in Cap-Haïtien when a tree crashed into their home.

And a bridge linking the Dominican Republic to Haiti has collapsed.

Captain Stephen Russell, of the Bahamas national emergency management agency, has told CNN of the approaching hurricane:

We are prepared as best as we can be.

He says some people are in shelters, but most who were evacuated from southern islands have sought refuge with family members and friends.

We are urging all persons throughout the Bahamas – whether they are visitors, residents, in the Bahamas at this time – to find a way to safeguard themselves from the impact of Hurricane Irma …

Find a safe place, a safe shelter.

He says people in low-lying areas should seek to move to higher ground, away from the coast into the interior.

He says a storm surge of up to 25ft (7.6m) could be witnessed.

The destructive force of a 25ft surge: that is our greatest concern. It can really cause catastrophic results

Turks and Caicos is currently suffering Irma’s attack.

Virginia Clerveaux, director of the Turks and Caicos department of disaster management and emergencies, told the BBC that people had been asked to find safe shelter:

We are now trying to remind them that this is a category five, and in the history of the Turks and Caicos islands this is the largest storm we have ever been impacted or threatened by.

The highest point on the islands is only 163ft (50m) and the US National Hurricane Center has warned that Irma could bring waves of 15-20 feet (4.5-6 metres) above normal levels.

Updated

Irma continues its sobering record-breaking streak: with sustained wind speeds of 185mph (295kph) for 33 hours, it is the longest storm of such intensity since satellite monitoring began in the 1970s.

Wind speeds have now dipped slightly to 175mph over the Turks and Caicos Islands, still a category 5 hurricane.

The five living former US presidents – Barack Obama, the two George Bushes, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter – have launched a fundraising drive, the One America appeal.

Originally conceived to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, the appeal will now be expanded to aid Americans affected by Hurricane Irma, the donations website says.

Irma remains a category five hurricane with wind speeds of 175mph (280kph) – slightly down from its peak of 185mph – as it batters the Turks and Caicos Islands.

This image shows the eye of Irma as it passes right over the islands:

And this shows the intensity as Irma passed across Anguilla, St Martin, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico before heading to Turks and Caicos:

Florida governor Rick Scott has ordered all state offices, schools, colleges and universities to close from Friday until at least Monday “to ensure we have every space available for sheltering and staging”.

Scott added:

Every family must be prepared to evacuate.

A voluntary evacuation began on Thursday from the tiny island of Barbuda – where upwards of 90% of homes were destroyed – to its larger sister island of Antigua.

Barbuda also faces the prospect of Hurricane Jose, currently a category 3 storm, striking this weekend.

Website 365Antigua says supplies are needed for evacuees arriving from Barbuda, including for several babies who are expected on a boat in around an hour from now:

25 babies will be coming in from Barbuda on the 10pm boat. All items such as formula, bottles, diapers, blankets, wipes will be needed.

Please bring these items to multi-purpose center, St John’s, Antigua.

Updated

Concerning news from Florida, via Associated Press:

As Hurricane Irma threatens to pound Miami with winds of mind-boggling power, a heavyweight hazard looms over the city’s skyline: two dozen enormous construction cranes.

Because those cranes were not designed to withstand a storm of Irma’s ferocity, city officials are telling people who live in the shadows of the giant devices to leave.

Construction sites across Irma’s potential path in Florida are being locked down to prevent building materials, tools and debris from becoming flying missiles in hurricane winds.

The horizontal arms of the tall tower cranes, however, will remain loose despite the potential danger of collapse. City officials say they cannot be tied down or moved.

Miami officials say it would take two weeks to move the cranes. The counterbalance on tower cranes weigh up to 30,000lb (13,600kg).

Officials have expressed concerned that cranes dotting the Miami skyline are not designed to withstand Irma’s category 5 winds.
Officials have expressed concerned that cranes dotting the Miami skyline are not designed to withstand Irma’s category 5 winds.
Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA

Death toll in US Virgin Islands rises to four

A government spokesman has said four people are now known to have been killed by Hurricane Irma in the US Virgin Islands, taking the total confirmed across the Caribbean so far to at least 13.

USVI spokesman Lonnie Soury said the death toll could rise:

We are not sanguine that there aren’t more.

Other confirmed fatalities include an infant on Barbuda, one person in Anguilla, three people in Puerto Rico and four in the French territory of St Martin.

John Freeman, the governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands, has been speaking to CNN as Hurricane Irma reaches the islands. Freeman says the message to people there is:

Hunker down, stay where you are … Nobody can get to you either – people are, for a little while, on their own.

He says authorities took steps before the storms came, moving some people to shelters, and bringing heavily pregnant women and dialysis patients into hospitals.

Power is out, he says:

Water production goes down, of course, with the electricity. On Grand Turk, the water went down quite early because the electricity went down quite early.

But, Freeman adds, “people here have been used to hurricanes” and have been collecting water before the winds hit.

Irma hits Turks and Caicos Islands

The US National Hurricane Center has issued an update on Irma’s progress. Here are the key points:

  • Irma is currently hitting the Turks and Caicos Islands
  • The hurricane is currently 55 miles (85km) west-south-west of Grand Turk, with maximum sustained winds of 175mph (280kmh).
  • Hurricane warnings remain in place for Turks and Caicos, Haiti, south-eastern, central and north-western Bahamas, western parts of the Dominican Republic, and Cuba.
  • A hurricane warning means “preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion” in those areas as hurricane conditions are expected.

Updated

Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló has also declared a disaster in the tiny islands of Culebra and Vieques, to Puerto Rico’s east, which were hard-hit by the storm.

So far there has been little information from the islands about the extent of the damage there.

Even as Irma continues to wreak havoc across the Caribbean, attention turns to recovery for those islands already hit.

Many affected islands have links with the UK, France, US and the Netherlands, and those countries have mobilised – some less speedily than others – to engage in relief efforts.

The French interior minister, Gerard Collomb, said the country had sent 100,000 food rations – four days of supplies – to its overseas collectivities of St Martin and Saint Barthélemy:

It’s a tragedy. We’ll need to rebuild both islands. Most of the schools have been destroyed.

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said the storm had “caused wide-scale destruction of infrastructure, houses and businesses” on St Maarten, the Netherlands-administered part of St Martin:

There is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Houses are under water, cars are floating through the streets, inhabitants are sitting in the dark in ruined houses and are cut off from the outside world.

The US military is sending troops to the US Virgin Islands, where governor Kenneth Mapp described the situation as “very chilling”.

Britain said it was sending troops and the HMS Ocean – currently in the Mediterranean – to Anguilla, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands.

Irma now has Haiti in its sights. Authorities there have admitted they are ill-prepared for the category five onslaught, with the risks of flash flooding and landslides high.

Heavy rain is already pummelling the north coast and several areas have already lost power.

This is Claire Phipps picking up the live blog.

In the British Virgin Islands, governor Gus Jaspert has declared a state of emergency in the wake of Irma – and with Hurricane Jose threatening to reach them this weekend.

Jaspert asked people on the BVI to avoid using roads unless “absolutely necessary” in order to prioritise emergency services. He added:

I would like to appeal to you to remain calm and to reassure we are doing all we can to assist you.

Please, could any public service organisation or anyone with a truck that could offer assistance and have not made contact with the [national emergency operations centre], do so now.

Let us all continue to help each other however we can and continue to pray for each other, may God bless and protect the territory and our people.

What we know so far

  • The eye of Hurricane Irma, still a category 5 storm with sustained winds of 175mph (290kph), has moved westward off the northern coast of Hispaniola, its arms raking across Dominican Republic and Haiti. The storm is currently bearing down on the British territories of Turks and Caicos, and projected to move toward the southern Bahamas.
  • At least 12 people have been confirmed dead in the wake of the storm. The confirmed fatalities include an infant on Barbuda, one person in Anguilla, three people in Puerto Rico, three in the US Virgin Islands, and four in the French territory of St Martin.
  • Thousands more remain in shelters, their homes damaged or destroyed. In Puerto Rico, almost a million people are without power and 50,000 without water, according to the US territory’s department of emergency relief.
  • South Florida was placed on watch, with more than 750,000 people ordered to evacuate barrier islands and coastal areas. The NWS warned that storm surges of five to 10ft (up to 3 metres) could begin in the next 48 hours. Governor Rick Scott said that a storm surge moved by a storm this strong “could cover your house”, and pleaded with residents not to underestimate the hurricane. More than 500,000 people were ordered to evacuate from coastal Georgia.
  • “Every Florida family must be prepared to evacuate regardless of the coast you live on,” Scott said, stressing the gigantic scale of the storm. “We can rebuild your home but we cannot rebuild your life.”
  • The storm is expected to descend somewhere on the Florida coast on Friday night or early Saturday, though it remains unclear where or when exactly the hurricane will fall the mainland. The Keys will have no rescue services or hospitals from Friday morning onward, authorities warned.
  • The National Weather Service warned residents that winds and floods could make buildings “uninhabitable for weeks or months”, and authorities raced to bring fuel to areas with shortages.
  • On Barbuda, prime minister Gaston Browne said Irma had made 90% of the tiny island’s structures “literally rubble” and that half the population was homeless. On French-administered St Martin, local councilman Daniel Gibbs told a local radio station “95% of the island is destroyed”. French authorities have sent naval ships with supplies to the island, and the UK has sent a vessel with supplies to its Virgin Islands territories.
  • In Haiti and the Dominican Republican, authorities closed all schools. Haitian president Jovenal Moïse urged people in rural areas to head to shelters and out of the mountains. On the Bahamas, prime minister Hubert Minnis ordered people to leave six southern islands, the largest evacuation in the country’s history.
  • East of the Caribbean, hurricane Jose grew to a category three storm, on course to strike some of the small islands that have barely emerged from Irma’s winds.

The governor of Puerto Rico is meeting with residents and surveying the damage, writing on Twitter: “our people of Culbera and their city government can count on the support and attention of the central government for their recovery.”

And in Dominican Republic, United Nations staff begin to take stock of what’s left from Irma’s recent departure.

Northbound routes out of Florida have become jammed with traffic, as more than half a million people flee southern evacuation zones of the state and airports prepare for their final flights before closing on Friday. Hundreds of thousands more were ordered to evacuate coastal areas of Georgia, as the state’s governor prepared for worst-case scenarios.

The AP reports from I-95 and I-75, the largest roads leading north out of Florida and Georgia.

Mari and Neal Michaud loaded their two children and dog into their small sport-utility vehicle and left their home near Cocoa Beach about 10am, bound for an impromptu vacation in Washington, D.C. Using a phone app and calls to search for fuel along the way, they finally arrived at a convenience store that had gasoline nearly five hours later.

The 60-mile trip up Interstate 95 should have taken an hour, said Mari Michaud.

“There was no gas and it’s gridlock. People are stranded on the sides of the highway,” she said. “It’s 92 degrees out and little kids are out on the grass on the side of the road. No one can help them.”

Noel Marsden said he, his girlfriend, her son and their dog left Pembroke Pines north of Miami with plans to ride out Irma in Savannah, only to find the city was also shutting down because of Irma. Marsden isn’t sure where they’ll all end up.

“I’ve got a buddy in Atlanta and a buddy in Charlotte. We’ll wind up one of those two places because there are not hotels, I can tell you that,” he said.

The last time Georgia was struck by a hurricane of force Category 3 or higher happened in 1898. The last Category 5 storm to hit Florida was Andrew in 1992. Its winds topped 165 mph (265 kph), killing 65 people and inflicting $26 billion in damage. It was at the time the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.

Hurricane Irma evacuating traffic streaming out of Florida creeps along northbound Interstate 75.
Hurricane Irma evacuating traffic streaming out of Florida creeps along northbound Interstate 75.
Photograph: Erik S. Lesser/EPA

Updated

Death toll rises to 12 confirmed

The Associated Press reports that three people have died in the US Virgin Islands, according to American officials there.

Governor spokesman Samuel Topp said Thursday that the deaths occurred in the St. Thomas and St. Johns district. Officials say crews are clearing many roads that remain inaccessible. The category storm destroyed homes, schools and roads as it roared through the northeast Caribbean this week and heads toward Florida.

Nine other people were confirmed killed by the storm around the Caribbean: an infant on Barbuda, one person in Anguilla, three people in Puerto Rico, and four in the French territory of St Martin. France’s interior minister at first said eight people had been killed, but the nation’s prime minister later said he could only confirm four killed. Officials said they expect the toll to increase as search and rescue efforts begin.

More than 250,000 people have been ordered to evacuate from parts of Palm Beach County, officials said, effective Friday morning at 10am local time.

The areas include barrier islands, areas near Jupiter, mobile homes, and low coastal areas and neighborhoods and towns along the intracostal waterways running up and down the coast. The storm surge, in particular, will be unusually large and dangerous.

“It’s not something that we’ve seen in our lifetime. The strength of this storm is remarkable and it’s not remarkable in a good way,” a local official says at a press briefing.”

County officials are urging people who are not in evacuation zones to have battery-powered lights, extra charges for cell phones, bottled water, and sealed food, among other supplies. “It may be days before public assistance can get to you,” the official says.

He adds that there are four general population shelters opening in the county on Friday at 3pm local time. “The message from the state, from the governor, is that there are a lot of people on the highway, a lot of people trying to get some place, and the roads are not able to handle that.”

Florida falls squarely in 5pm forecast

American forecasters have just updated their projections for Irma with an ominous tack west, toward Miami-Dade County – the most populous county in Florida – and a path through the center of the state.

Updated

Hurricane Jose grows to category 3

The National Weather Service has upgrade hurricane Jose, currently east of the Caribbean and heading toward the same islands just struck by Irma, to a category three storm, with additional growth possible in the next 24 to 36 hours.

Hurricane watches are in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, and tropical storm watches for Anguilla, Montserrat, St Kitts, and Nevis – islands that all either suffered brutal storms or narrowly avoided devastation from Irma.

As recovery workers reach St Maarten, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico in the wake of Irma, so do photographers, conveying the scope of the storm.

A photo provided by the Dutch Defense Ministry showing storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, in St. Maarten.
A photo provided by the Dutch Defense Ministry showing storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, in St. Maarten.
Photograph: Gerben van Es/AP
View of a flooded church in Villa Vasquez, Dominican Republi.
View of a flooded church in Villa Vasquez, Dominican Republic.
Photograph: Luis Tavarez/EPA
Wreckage in the vicinity of the Santurce neighborhood in the aftermath of the hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Wreckage in the vicinity of the Santurce neighborhood in the aftermath of the hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Photograph: Thais Llorca/EPA

Though a northward swerve appears increasingly unlikely for hurricane Irma before landfall on Florida, Georgia governor Nathan Deal has ordered mandatory evacuations from coastal areas of his state.

Like his colleagues in Florida, Deal appears to be taking no chances with Irma’s general northern trajectory, ordering people to prepare and leave the area sooner rather than later. The state’s emergency services have provided maps and more detail about the areas affected by the order.

Updated

Time is running out for flights departing from southern Florida. Fort Lauderdale airport, which is with Miami International one of the major hubs of south Florida, will close its doors on Friday evening.

Miami International has not yet said when its last flight will depart before the storm, but warned people that it should not be considered a haven from the hurricane. “The airport is not a designated shelter during a storm, and operational needs at MIA may require occupants to be evacuated to nearby shelters. Resources like food and water may also not be readily available in the airport during or after the storm.”

Updated

Eric Blake, a National Hurricane Center scientist, has described Irma in stark, dire terms, urging people to listen to emergency managers and do everything possible to protect themselves and loved ones.

“This hurricane is as serious as any I have seen. No hype, just the hard facts. Take every life saving precaution you can,” Blake tweeted. “I have little doubt #Irma will go down as one of the most infamous in Atlantic hurricane history.”

“Trust the NHC professionals for the best possible forecast. Protect you and your loved ones. I hope I have a house to return to. I know it sounds dire. But a Category 4/5 into South Florida is one of those scenarios that sends chills.”

In Samana, in the eastern Dominican Republic, the United Nations Development Programme is among the international effort to send experts to help recovery.

Alejandro Adames, a photographer with the organization, has sent along photos of some of the destruction: structures sliding into the sea, a road with a cavernous space eroded beneath it, downed wires and trees. Irma is moving north of Hispanolia, on course between the island and the British territories of Turks and Caicos, heading toward the southern Bahamas.

Beth Carroll, a coordinator with the Catholic Relief Services, is in Haiti on the other side of the island, which has suffered raking winds from the titanic hurricane. “Poor drainage in the low-lying northern coastal areas mean that even a small amount of rain can cause extensive flooding,” she said. “The rain and winds expected from Irma, which promises to be a monster of a storm, will potentially cause catastrophic flooding and landslides. That’s why we are so concerned now.”

Samana, the Dominican Republic.
Samana, the Dominican Republic.
Photograph: Alejandro Adames/UNDP-GEF.
Samana, the Dominican Republic.
Samana, the Dominican Republic.
Photograph: Alejandro Adames/UNDP-GEF.
Samana, the Dominican Republic.
Samana, the Dominican Republic.
Photograph: Alejandro Adames/UNDP-GEF.

Florida governor Rick Scott has stressed time and again the frustrating, dangerous unpredictability of hurricanes, noting that a sudden swerve remains entirely possible and could either spare the state or exacerbate a collision. The Washington Post has compiled a list of some possible courses – with many caveats – excerpted here:

  • Scathing winds but landfall averted: “In this scenario, Miami would be spared the dangerous right-hand side of the storm. Hurricanes are most dangerous to the right of their center, since their rotating winds couple with the storm’s forward motion, making the gusts inside that much stronger.
    If the center tracks just offshore, Miami would would still contend with serious storm conditions with winds sustained between 55-75mph and gusts to 90, along with 4 to 7 inches of rain. This would occur in the Saturday-Sunday timeframe.
    While the storm’s the western eyewall would pass just offshore of Miami in this scenario, storms of Irma’s intensity are subject to “trochoidal wobbles.” Think of a hurricane like a spinning top; because the top rotates so quickly, it way jog left or right a little bit as it treks along while rotating furiously. Irma is the same way. A wobble of just a few miles west or east as she passes Miami could thrust the city into extreme danger, so this is a high-stakes forecast.”
  • Landfall near Miami: “Some models turn the hurricane northward late enough that it cannot avoid slamming into Southeast Florida. In this scenario, the system may make landfall in Southern Florida as a major hurricane of at least Category 4 strength. A large-scale disaster would likely result.
    Major population centers, like Miami, would be exposed to the destructive winds of the hurricane eyewall, in which gusts may exceed 140mph. A catastrophic storm surge would sweep ashore, while devastating inland flooding would result from excessive rainfall.”
  • Northward through Florida: “In this scenario, Irma would move ashore somewhere between the Keys and Miami. All of Florida would see wind and rain, but the heaviest would be relegated to areas south of Route 75, including the Everglades, Homestead, and Key Biscayne.
    The worst conditions would sweep ashore to the right side of the eye, exposing the Miami metro area to extreme hurricane-force winds, a surge of at least several feet, and torrential downpours.”
  • A veer west: “A few model outliers hang on to the possibility that the storm rides up the west coast of Florida, then Key West, Naples, Fort Myers, Tampa, and Tallahassee would face the brunt of the storm – similar to Scenario 2 for southeast and eastern Florida. The most destructive winds and devastating storm surge would occur in Southwest Florida, assuming that’s where the center first came ashore.”

Florida governor: ‘storm surges could cover your house’

Florida governor Rick Scott has again urged people up and down his state to prepare for worst case scenarios of the hurricane.

He notes that Floridians can go to JaxReady.com for more information, or the state’s Department of Emergency Management. If people are in need of hotels, he says Expedia is offering Florida-specific service, that JetBlue has capped flights out of Florida at $99, and that the app GasBuddy can help guide residents toward fuel. He again urges people to know their evacuation zone, and to act immediately if they are in a mandatory area.

Another official warns that if the storm stays on its current path, mandatory evacuation zones will expand, and more people will need to head north or to inland shelters. Scott says that the extraordinarily powerful winds of the storm mean it will not likely deluge Florida, like hurricane Harvey did to Texas. But it will

“My biggest concern right now is that people are not taking seriously enough the risk of storm surge,” Scott says. “A storm surge, we could have five to 10 feet of storm surge, it could cover your house.”

He also reiterates a warning about the unpredictable nature of the storm, that it could move east or west at a surprising moment: “this storm has the potential to catastrophically devastate our state, and you have to take this seriously.”

“It’s already killed a lot of people in the Caribbean, don’t think you can ride out this storm,” Scott says. “I cannot stress this enough: get prepared now.”

Finally, Scott pleads for more volunteers to help with shelters, food distribution, and other response efforts, saying the state needs 17,000 people in all to help. Volunteers can call 1.800.FLHELP1, he says.

Florida Governor Rick Scott gives an update to the media.
Florida Governor Rick Scott gives an update to the media.
Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Updated

Florida senator Marco Rubio has urged residents to act now, in the final hours before Irma makes landfall on the American mainland, most likely on the southern coast of his state. Governor Rick Scott is giving an afternoon press conference with the latest information on preparations, which we’ll have updates from shortly.

Miami-Dade expands evacuation zones

Carlos Gimenez, the mayor of Miami-Dade, has expanded evacuation orders to more coastal and increasingly inland regions.

The county had already ordered evacuations in Miami Beach and other barrier islands (Zone A and parts of Zone B); Gimenez has now ordered evacuations for Miami’s main financial and downtown condo districts (the rest of Zone B) and inland districts like South Miami and Coral Gables (Zone C). The orders affect more than 500,000 people.

The Miami Herald has more details on the orders, and Gimenez has urged residents to look at MiamiDade.gov for more information.

As hurricane Irma barrels through the Caribbean on its course toward the mainland United States, people who have survived its passage or are still preparing for it have captured stunning, surreal images of the storm: boats stacked atop each other in the Virgin Islands, swelling turbid floods in Puerto Rico, Mustangs driving off to homemade barricades in Florida.

 

Donald Trump has declared a disaster for the US Virgin Islands, according to Thomas Bossert, a national security adviser to the president, and the UK has sent a military task for to its adjacent territories along with millions of pounds

Britain has released £32m in emergency aid for its territories, as well as the ship HMS Ocean, carrying at least three helicopters, and hundreds of marines and royal engineers who will be sent in RAF transport planes. The trip ship will take 10 days to two weeks to reach the islands from the Mediterranean.

The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour reports:

The increased resources, and military hardware, came after an overnight assessment sent to the cabinet emergency committee Cobra concluded the devastation on the British overseas territories of Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands was worse than feared. Aid was increased from a planned £12m to £32m after Cobra met.

At least one person has been confirmed dead in Anguilla and there are concerns that another British overseas territory – the low-lying Turks and Caicos Islands – is in the line of the storm and likely to be battered. Evacuations have begun and tropical-force rains were expected to begin on Thursday afternoon local time.

Philip Levine, the mayor of Miami Beach, has told CNN that Irma is “a nuclear hurricane” and that all residents and visitors to the area should leave.

“This is a very serious, incredibly powerful storm. I call it a nuclear hurricane,” Levine said. “I recommend and strongly urge all our residents and visitors to leave Miami Beach. I’m aggressively going out there telling everyone get out of Miami Beach.”

Levine said that buses and city trolleys are working to get people off the barrier of Miami Beach and inland, toward shelters around Miami-Dade county. He warned people that first responders will be working to save people after the worst of the storm, but will be unable to help people in the most dangerous areas – such as Miami Beach and the Florida Keys – once the storm has reached them.

“When that storm hits we’re not going to put the lives of our first responders in jeopardy,” Levine said. “We don’t want heroes. This isn’t about devastation, it’s about evacuation.”

He added that although most of the city’s buildings built after hurricane Andrew, a devastating category five storm that hit Florida in 1992, are built to withstand such storms, people should take no chances. “I wouldn’t trust any building code, any building promise,” the mayor said. “I never thought I’d say this but leave Miami Beach, get out of Miami Beach.’

A worker covers the windows of a restaurant with plywood in preparation for Hurricane Irma in Miami Beac.
A worker covers the windows of a restaurant with plywood in preparation for Hurricane Irma in Miami Beac.
Photograph: Bryan Woolston/Reuters

Little has changed with Irma’s trajectory with the 2pm eastern update, meaning huge consequences for millions of people in Florida are dependent on tiny, last minute changes in the course of the hurricane, notes meteorologist Ryan Maue.

Farther east in the Atlantic, hurricane Jose has grown to a category two storm, with maximum sustained winds of 105mph.

Hurricane Irma has left Puerto Rico with at least three dead and thousands more without power or water, but the island’s residents and government have allowed themselves a sigh of relief that the storm did not move slightly south, wreaking the same devastation as other islands more directly in its path.

Reuters reports from San Juan, where street signs, powerlines, and trees have fallen across the roads and onto buildings.

The storm’s eye did not come ashore in Puerto Rico but roared past with 185mph winds and hammered the coast with 30ft waves.“It was really not as bad as we had feared,” said Omar Alvarez, 53, a real state appraiser. “We had very high winds but we got lucky.”

“It was mostly wind, not water. In Hugo, the water came up to here,” he said, referring to the 1989 hurricane that had flooded his street just three blocks from the Atlantic Ocean.

Governor Ricardo Rossello warned the storm was expected to continue to drop rain on the island’s western side, raising the risk of landslides. Rescuers still were working in the island’s northeast, raising the possibility that more bodies could be discovered.

Some 6,300 people and 500 pets remained in shelters in the storm’s wake early Thursday.

Aftermath from Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico in the vicinity of the Santurce neighborhood.
Aftermath from Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico in the vicinity of the Santurce neighborhood.
Photograph: Thais Llorca/EPA

“The Harvey experience had an effect of people,” lawyer Nereida Melendez, 59, said as she walked along a beach-side road covered in sand and palm leaves. “It just showed them what can happen. It made them take it more seriously.”

“Mostly what has happened here is that there is no electricity and a lot of trees are down,” said Rafael Ojeda, a 49-year-old lawyer. “Let’s see how fast the electricity comes back up.”

The storm came at a bad time for Puerto Rico, which is in the midst of trying to restructure some $70 billion in debts. Ojeda worried that and the demand for quick repairs to the power grid could lead to longer-term problems.

“The infrastructure is old and if you’re going to just patch it up and not fix it, the next time it is going to go,” he said.

Wreckage in the vicinity of the Santurce neighborhood.
Wreckage in the vicinity of the Santurce neighborhood.
Photograph: Thais Llorca/EPA

What we know so far

  • The eye of Hurricane Irma, still a category 5 storm with sustained winds of 180mph (290kph), moved westward off the northern coast of Hispaniola on Thursday morning, its winds raking the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The storm’s projected path Thursday brings it almost directly over the British possessions of Turks and Caicos, followed by a course near the southern Bahamas.
  • At least nine people have been confirmed dead in the wake of the storm, and as many as 13 reported killed. The confirmed fatalities include an infant on Barbuda, one person in Anguilla, three people in Puerto Rico, and four in the French territory of St Martin.
  • Thousands more remain in shelters, their homes damaged or destroyed. In Puerto Rico, almost a million people are without power and 50,000 without water, according to the US territory’s department of emergency relief.
  • Southern Florida was placed on hurricane watch, with warnings that storm surges of five to 10ft could begin in the next 48 hours. The National Weather Service warned residents that winds and floods could make buildings “uninhabitable for weeks or months”, and authorities raced to bring fuel to areas with shortages.
  • “Every Florida family must be prepared to evacuate regardless of the coast you live on,” governor Rick Scott said, stressing the gigantic scale of the storm. “We can rebuild your home but we cannot rebuild your life.”
  • The storm is expected to hit the Florida Keys on Friday night and make landfall on the mainland early Saturday, though it remains unclear where exactly the hurricane will hit the mainland. The Keys will have no rescue services or hospitals from Friday onward, authorities warned.
  • On Barbuda, prime minister Gaston Browne said Irma had made 90% of the tiny island’s structures “literally rubble” and that half the population was homeless. On French-administered St Martin, local councilman Daniel Gibbs told a local radio station “95% of the island is destroyed”. French authorities have sent naval ships with supplies to the island.
  • In Haiti and the Dominican Republican, authorities closed all schools. Haitian president Jovenal Moïse urged people in rural areas to head to shelters and out of the mountains. “The hurricane is not a game,” he said in a television address. On the Bahamas, prime minister Hubert Minnis ordered people to leave six southern islands, the largest evacuation in the country’s history.
  • Already one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record, Irma held sustained winds of 185mph for over 24 hours before it slowed to its current speed, making it the most enduring hurricane since the 1960s when satellite monitoring began. President Donald Trump has declared states of emergency in the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Florida.

NWS Miami: prepare for ‘uninhabitable’ swaths

The Miami station of the National Weather Station has issued a dire warning for the potential effects of the storm on southern Florida, in particular tornado-force winds and huge storm surges.

The main window of concern for hurricane Irma, impacts is early Saturday morning through Monday. Additional concerns exist for flooding rains, isolated tornadoes, significant beach erosion and surf, coastal flooding, and life-threatening rip currents.

Florida residents should be prepared for the possibility that homes and buildings may be entirely “uninhabitable for weeks or months”, the station warned.

Wind: prepare for life-threatening wind having possible devastating impacts across south Florida. Potential impacts include:

    • Structural damage to sturdy buildings, some with complete roof adn wall failures. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Damage greatly accentuated by large airbone projectiles. Locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
    • Numerous large trees snapped or uprooted along with fences and roadway signs blown over.
    • Many roads impassable from large debris, and more within urban or heavily wooded places. Many bridges, causeways, and access routes impassable.
    • Widespread power communications outages.

Surge: prepare for life-threatening surge having possible devastating impacts across coastal Collier, mainland Monroe, coastal Miami-Dade counties, including Biscayne Bay.

Updated

Donald Trump has said he believes the United States is ready for hurricane Irma, telling reporters, “we think we are as well prepare as we could possibly be.”

Yet he still admitted uncertainty about what will actually happening, as he did on Wednesday, by saying Irma “looks like it could be something that will be not good, believe me, not good.”

On Thursday, he said: “Florida is as well prepared as you can be for something like this and we’ll see what happens. Certainly we are being hit with a lot of hurricanes.”

The president also spoke about the recovery from hurricane Harvey, praising the efforts of the coast guard for saving thousands of lives.
“What could have been a total catastrophe,” he said, “in terms of lives has been much less.”

French officials have cast doubt on the number of fatalities on the territory of St Martin, saying they have confirmed four deaths but not the eight reported by local officials previously. The AFP reports:

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Thursday that four people were confirmed dead on the Caribbean island of St Martin ravaged by Hurricane Irma.

Local rescue officials and Interior Minister Gerard Collomb had previously said the death toll stood at eight.

Philippe said around 50 people were injured, including three seriously, on St Martin and the nearby smaller island of St Barthelemy. Twenty-one have been hospitalised.

He said officials were in the process of identifying the four dead, adding that no deaths were reported from St Barthelemy.

On St Martin, 60% of homes have been damaged so badly that they are uninhabitable, Philippe said, describing the disaster as “unimaginable and unprecedented”.

Power is cut across St Martin as well as supplies of potable water and petrol, he said. Roads are either partly or totally impassable, he added.

However the harbour and airport are back in use, he said, noting that a military plane landed on the island Thursday.

“The work will be long, emotions will run deep and the sadness will be great,” he said.

Updated

On its current course, hurricane Irma is predicted to pass directly over, or quite close to, the British territories of Turk and Caicos on Thursday night, followed by a brush with the southern islands of the Bahamas and Cuba’s northern coast.

On Friday night, the hurricane is expected to land at or pass near the archipelago of the Florida Keys, an area ordered evacuated by the state’s governor, Rick Scott.

It’s unclear exactly where the storm will exactly strike along the coast. Scott warned that it could veer unexpectedly, and that its gigantic size means that the Gulf and Atlantic coasts alike are threatened by severe storm surges and category-four hurricane winds.

hurricane path

Fuel has become such a scarcity in south Florida, and such a priority for governor Rick Scott, that police are escorting tankers and managing gas station service.

Scott said he wanted to avoid the lapses of hurricane Andrew: enough fuel to evacuate, to supply power during the storm, and to speed up the recovery in its aftermath.

The National Weather Service branch of the Florida Keys have warned in the most severe terms that everyone should leave the archipelago, saying in a midday advisory that hurricane conditions are possible within the next 48 hours.

From the advisory:

  • The hurricane’s most likely arrival time is late morning or afternoon Saturday.
  • Storm surges of six to 10ft could push onto the islands, depending on the course of the hurricane.
  • Hurricane force winds – a minimum of 74mph, but almost certainly far higher – extend for about 100 miles across the storm.
  • “There are no coast guard search and rescue assets left in the Keys. The Port of Key West is to officially close 8pm Thursday. The Snake Creek Drawbridge in Islamorada is to be locked down (no openings for marine traffic) at 8pm Thursday.”
Homes are boarded in Key West, Florida.
Homes are boarded in Key West, Florida.
Photograph: Olivier Kanuty/AFP/Getty Images

Florida governor Rick Scott has activated 3,000 members of the state national guard, with plans to activate the entire state force – 7,000 people in all – on Friday.

“We are expecting our state to have major impacts from Hurricane Irma and we are taking aggressive actions to make sure Florida is prepared,” Scott said in a statement. “These men and women are putting themselves in harm’s way to save the lives of their fellow Floridians while many of their own families are evacuating. I am proud of their commitment to keeping our families safe.”

Earlier on Thursday, Scott pleaded with residents who have already prepared to help volunteer at shelters and distribution centers. In Key West, the police chief has warned everyone that after Friday, all hospitals will be closed after 7am local time, and there will be no helicopters available for people who choose to defy the mandatory evacuation order.

Three killed in Puerto Rico

Hurricane Irma killed three people as it battered Puerto Rico, with a 79-year-old woman, a younger woman, and a man among the fatalities.

In a statement, governor Ricardo Rossello said that the elderly woman, who needed assistance moving, died after a fall en route to a shelter. A younger woman died in Camuy, on the north-west coast of the island, from electrocution in her home, and a man died from a traffic accident in Canóvanas, in the north-east.

Eight others were reported killed in French St Martin, as well as one person in Anguilla and an infant in Barbuda.

Updated

For the first time in seven years, there are currently three active hurricanes in the Atlantic:

  • The category-five Irma, on course over Turks and Caicos, toward the southern Bahamas, and south Florida;
  • The category-one Katia, gaining strength but stationary in the Gulf of Mexico;
  • The category-one Jose, on a tentative path back toward Barbuda, Antigua, and Puerto Rico – the islands’ second hurricane in three days.

More than a million people in Puerto Rico still lack power, the AP reports, accounting for about 70% of the territory’s Electric Power Authority. There are about 3.4 million people on the island.

Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rossello said Thursday that crews are investigating and until they know the extent of the damage, “it will be difficult to estimate how long the power outage will last.”

Rossello added that ports on the island are still closed, and it’s unclear when commercial flights will resume. Schools and government offices are scheduled to reopen on Monday.

Sea water rises to a water deck as hurricane Irma approaches Puerto Rico in Fajardo.
Sea water rises to a water deck as hurricane Irma approaches Puerto Rico in Fajardo.
Photograph: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

Storm surge watch for south Florida

The major counties of south Florida – Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Colliers – have been declared under a hurricane watch by state officials. Irma is currently maintaining winds of about 175mph, well above the 74mph minimum for hurricane winds, and officials fear five to 10ft storm surges for southern coastal parts of the peninsula.

Updated

Shipping containers and boats piled up like toys, city blocks leveled, and buildings stripped of whole faces are just a few of the images published online by the Dutch ministry of defense from a helicopter flyby.

The extent of damage, injuries, and possible deaths remains unknown from Dutch St Maarten; at least eight people were killed on the French side of the territory.

The son of British billionaire Richard Branson, Sam, has posted several videos and photographs of the British Virgin Islands on his Instagram page. The images show buildings with their roofs torn from their walls, rebar and debris everywhere, and boats tossed into heaps.

In a text post, Branson said there remains no power in Virgin Gorda, that some bays are flooded, 80% of Cane Garden Bay “destroyed” on the island of Tortola, and that winds and debris remain dangerous.

Airports in the Bahamas are closing as Hurricane Irma nears the islands, the AP reports, while evacuations continue from southern islands closest to the storm’s projected path.

The government says the international airport in Nassau will close late Thursday and it urges people who plan to leave the island chain east of Florida to check with airlines for space.

Grand Bahama’s airport and the less-populated island throughout the chain will close by noon Friday.

The US National Hurricane Center predicted Irma would remain at Category four or five for the next day or two as it passes just to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, nears the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night and skirts Cuba on Friday night into Saturday.

The south Florida counties currently in Irma’s projected course have each provided services for shelters, evacuation, and supply information.

“If you’re in an evacuation area, do not wait to get out,” Scott says. “We can’t save you after the storm starts.”

The governor tells families they should “be aggressive” in steps to protect their families. “This is not a storm you can sit and wait through.”

Despite traffic, he says that roads remain without major problems, and that state authorities are working hard to get fuel back to gas stations and to the public. “I’ve been very clear to the retailers and the oil companies that we have to get the fuel out so that everybody has the fuel to evacuate,” he says. “If you’re concerned you do not have the fuel or supplies to evacuate, call 1.800.955.5504, a dedicated transport hotline.”

Scott says that Expedia is helping provide hotel services for evacuees and Comcast internet services around the state. He says he has requested tarps, water, baby food, supply trucks, personnel and equipment from the federal government; mobilized the federal guard; and received assurances that “anybody that responded to Texas has been demobilized to come to Florida if we need them.”

He makes a plea for volunteers to help with sandbags, shelters, and other state coordination efforts, saying Florida needs thousands more to help. Fuel is a particular priority, he says, not just for evacuations but to get the state’s services – hospitals, shelters, etc – back into working condition. “We’re going to have downed power lines, we’re going to have debris, we’re going to have all those typical things,” he says, recalling the slow and painful recovery from hurricane Andrew. “We’ve got to survive this storm, and then we’ve got to get back

Scott fields a question about Lake Okeechobee and the threat of flooding. “This storm is moving fast so we will not get the same rain that Texas got,” the governor says. “The biggest risk with the dike at Okeechobee is rain.”

He stresses, again, that no one should doubt the danger of this storm. “Every Florida family must be prepared to evacuate regardless of the coast you live on.”

Updated

Florida governor Rick Scott has delivered a press conference to update residents about what the state is doing and what Floridians can do to protect themselves.

Miami Dade county, the most populated in the state, should expect “deadly storm surge and life threatening winds”, Scott says. “We can expect this along the entire east coast,” he continues, with landfall in the Florida Keys as early as Friday night.

“Look at the size of this storm. It is huge,” Scott says. “It is wider than our entire state and could case major and life-threatening impacts on both coasts, coast to coast. Floridians on the west coast cannot be complacent. The west coast will still have hurricane conditions, and these storms can move and change.”

“Remember hurricane Andrew was one of the worst storms in the history of Florida – this is much worse and more devastating in its current path.”

He has ordered mandatory evacuations for two zones in the county, and urged residents to check their zone with Florida’s emergency management authorities. There are also evacuation zones in Collier County and Broward County. “You do not need to evacuate out of the state or hundreds of miles away to stay safe. Find shelters in your county,” Scott says. More than 31,000 people have already evacuated from the Keys.

Updated

In south Florida, gas stations have run out of fuel, stores of water, and hardware stores of plywood. Authorities are scrambling to dole out sandbags and other supplies to shore up homes, while people in coastal stretches are fleeing inland or north. Governor Rick Scott is due to give a press conference within minutes.

Hurricane Irma: what we know so far

Hello and welcome to Thursday’s coverage of Hurricane Irma. Here’s a round-up of the latest news:

  • The eye of Hurricane Irma, still a category 5 storm with sustained winds of 180mph (290kph), moved westward off the northern coast of Hispaniola on Thursday morning, its winds raking the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The storm’s projected path Thursday brings it almost directly over the British possessions of Turks and Caicos, followed by a course near the southern Bahamas.
  • At least 10 people have been reported dead in the wake of the storm: an infant on Barbuda, one person in Anguilla and eight in the French territory of St Martin. Thousands more remain in shelters, their homes damaged or destroyed. In Puerto Rico, almost a million people are without power and 50,000 without water, according to the US territory’s department of emergency relief.
  • Florida governor Rick Scott has ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal stretches of south Florida, including the vulnerable Florida Keys. Fuel shortages have begun at gas stations around the state, which only has two major north-south highways, and authorities have opened shelters in inland areas.
  • The storm is expected to make landfall in Florida early Saturday, though it remains unclear where exactly the hurricane will hit the mainland.
  • On Barbuda, prime minister Gaston Browne said Irma had made 90% of the tiny island’s structures “literally rubble” and that half the population was homeless. On French-administered St Martin, local councilman Daniel Gibbs told a local radio station “95% of the island is destroyed”. French authorities have sent naval ships with supplies to the island.
  • In Haiti and the Dominican Republican, authorities closed all schools. Haitian president Jovenal Moïse urged people in rural areas to head to shelters and out of the mountains. “The hurricane is not a game,” he said in a television address. On the Bahamas, prime minister Hubert Minnis ordered people to leave six southern islands, the largest evacuation in the country’s history.
  • Already one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record, Irma held sustained winds of 185mph for over 24 hours before it slowed to its current speed, making it the most enduring hurricane since the 1960s when satellite monitoring began. President Donald Trump has declared states of emergency in the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Florida.
  • “Do not ignore evacuation orders,” Scott told Floridians on Wednesday. “We can rebuild your home but we cannot rebuild your life.”

Updated

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Hits: 1210

Leave a comment

Hurricane Irma live updates: warning issued for Florida as storm pummels Haiti and Bahamas | 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).