Irma Heads Toward Florida Leavidng Caribbean Devastated

Updated Friday 8 September 2017 15:45
Irma Heads Toward Florida Leavidng Caribbean Devastated

 One of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded crescendoed over the Caribbean on Thursday, crumpling islands better known as beach paradises into half-habitable emergency zones and sideswiping Puerto Rico before churning north. It is expected to hit the Florida Keys and South Florida by Saturday night.

More than 60 percent of households in Puerto Rico were without power. On St. Martin, an official said 95 percent of the island was destroyed. The Haitian government called for all agencies, stores and banks to shut down as the storm hit. Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda said that half f Barbuda had been left homeless.

Watching Hurricane Irma maraud across Barbuda and Anguilla, residents of Florida and others who found themselves on the wrong side of the forecast were hastening to get out of the way. Government officials in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina pleaded for people to evacuate vulnerable areas, triggering a scramble for the essentials — gasoline, water, sandbags — that, even for hurricane-hardened Floridians, was laced with dread and punctuated with dire warnings from every direction.

A shortage of gasoline and bottled water, always a headache in the days before hurricanes, grew more acute in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, as the production of Houston oil refineries shrank and fuel and water were diverted to Texas. Pump lines in South Florida sprawled for blocks as fleeing residents sucked up what gas they could, and some drivers chased after tankers they had spied on the roads.

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida urged extreme caution in the face of a powerful storm that could quickly change course. “Every Florida family must prepare to evacuate regardless of the coast you live on,” he said.

By the time Rosi Edreira and her husband got the order to leave their home in Cutler Bay, part of the second evacuation zone in Miami-Dade County, they had already made plans to seek shelter in Charlotte, N.C. Into the car would go photo albums, birth certificates, nearly 400 Christmas ornaments collected over a quarter-century and their two dogs, JJ and Coco Puff, and cat, Dicky.

“I did Andrew,” said Ms. Edreira, 49, recalling the massive Category 5 hurricane that ripped off her roof 25 years ago last month. “I’m not doing that again.”

By Thursday night, Irma’s 175-mile-an-hour winds and pelting rains had already serially ransacked the islands of the eastern Caribbean, leaving at least seven dead and whole communities flattened.

Not all the news was awful. Despite the loss of power to most of the island, damage and loss of life on Puerto Rico was far less than feared. Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, were also spared direct hits.

But the terror of the storm left people grasping for superlatives.

“There are shipwrecks everywhere, destroyed houses everywhere, torn-off roofs everywhere,” the president of the French territorial council on St. Martin, Daniel Gibbs, told Radio Caraibes international.

“It’s just unbelievable,” he added. “It’s indescribable.”

In Puerto Rico — among Irma’s less unfortunate casualties — the lights were out. In many places, so was running water.

Though the hurricane barely brushed the island, it managed to knock out its aging electrical system. More than a million customers were without power on Thursday, and a little more than half of the hospitals were functional. Even before a single raindrop fell, the head of the company, which is effectively bankrupt, had predicted that if the storm packed a wallop, it could take four to six months to completely re-establish service. His prediction infuriated Puerto Ricans, who see the latest development as yet another shameful indignity in the island’s yearslong economic decline.

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