Hurricane Irma Leaves At Least 10 Dead; Barbuda and St Martin Devastated

Hurricane Irma has caused massive destruction in St Martin. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Falwell/Twitter)


BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Thursday September 7, 2017 – Hurricane Irma continues to churn its way through the Caribbean, leaving in its wake a trail of death and destruction that only started to become clear late yesterday.

At least 10 people have been reported dead.

The Category 5 hurricane which was carrying maximum sustained winds near 185 miles per hour has devastated Barbuda – which Prime Minister Gaston Browne described as barely habitable – and St Martin, and reports of additional damage in other countries are also coming in.

A state of emergency was yesterday declared in Antigua’s sister isle, Barbuda, where Browne reported almost total devastation, with about 95 percent buildings damaged and 60 per cent of the island’s residents now homeless. A two-year-old child was Hurricane Irma’s first victim when it made a direct hit on the island.

The situation is similar in St Martin.

France’s Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told Franc Info that eight people died and another 23 were injured in the French Caribbean island territories of St Martin and Saint Barthélemy. But that number is expected to rise. St Martin official Daniel Gibbs is quoted by the Associated Press as saying that island is “95 per cent destroyed”.

Barbuda was the first Caribbean island to feel Irma’s wrath. Hours after declaring that Antigua had been spared the brunt of the hurricane, Prime Minister Browne visited Barbuda and what he found there was a vast contrast to what was left in Irma’s wake on the main island, which the hurricane skirted.

“I journeyed to Barbuda this afternoon and what I saw was heart-wrenching, absolutely devastating,” Browne said on state-owned ABS Television on his return to Antigua yesterday evening.

“In fact, I believe that on a per capita basis, the extent of the destruction in Barbuda is unprecedented. And it is unprecedented based on the type of storm. Hurricane Irma would have been easily the most powerful hurricane to have stormed through the Caribbean and it is extremely unfortunate that Barbuda was right in its path.

“From my observation, having done an aerial survey, I would say that about 95 percent of the properties would have suffered some level of damage; they would have lost at least a part of their roofs, some have lost whole roofs, some properties have been totally demolished. It is absolutely heart-wrenching,” he added.

Browne added that roads and telecommunications systems were destroyed and recovery would take months, if not years.

He said temporary relief is being mobilized for Barbuda. But with Hurricane Jose now churning towards the Leeward Islands, and scheduled to impact the same islands hit by Irma by this weekend, Browne said all Barbuda residents may have to be evacuated.

“In fact, I am of the view that as it stands now, Barbuda is barely habitable and if we have yet another storm coming in a matter of days we will have to make special arrangements to evacuate all Barbudans and bring them over here until we can restore some level of normalcy,” the Prime Minister said.

Meantime, St Martin is also in need of emergency assistance.

“It’s an enormous catastrophe,” Gibbs, regional council chairman told Associated Press. “I’m in shock. It’s frightening. I have sick people to evacuate, I have a population to evacuate because I don’t know where I can shelter them.”

French President Macron said while it was too soon to give casualty figures, he expected the toll “will be harsh and cruel”, adding that he expected damage on Saint Barthélemy and St Martin to be “considerable”.

Photos and video circulating on social media from St Martin showed major damage to the airport in Philipsburg and the coastal village of Marigot heavily flooded. France sent emergency food and water there and to the French island of Saint Barthélemy, where Irma ripped off roofs and knocked out electricity.

Over in Anguilla, at least one person was killed.

The tourist board reported that the major resorts on the island survived a hit from Hurricane Irma but many private homes were damaged.

Significant damage has also been reported from the British Virgin Islands, where critical facilities, as well as homes, businesses and supermarkets, have been devastated.

United States President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency in the US Virgin Islands, which were also struck. There were reports of extensive damage to buildings, and of land entirely stripped of vegetation. A public health emergency has also been declared.

In St Kitts, several persons suffered damages to their homes and property; trees were felled and poles and power lines were downed. Water was shut off as a safety measure to prevent excessive siltation and there was loss of power in some communities.

However, there were no reports of death or injury.

The most recent island to be hit was Puerto Rico, where lashing winds and rains have left most of the population without power and tens of thousands without water.

This morning, the eye of Hurricane Irma was moving off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic.
The hurricane was about 95 miles north of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and about 210 miles east southeast of Grand Turk Island and moving towards the west northwest at 17 miles per hour.

On the forecast track, the centre should pass north of the coast of Hispaniola later today, be near the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas by this evening, and then be near the Central Bahamas by tomorrow.

The National Hurricane Centre said maximum sustained winds are near 180 miles per hour with higher gusts, and while some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, Irma is forecast to remain a powerful Category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days.

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