Sunday, September 10, 2017

Florida governor says 'pray for us' as Hurricane Irma begins its assault

Irma’s northern eyewall reaches lower Florida Keys, lashing area with near 130mph winds after devastating Caribbean.

Hurricane Irma has begun its assault on Florida as a category 4 storm, lashing the area with winds near 130mph (215km/h) and drenching rain.
Millions of people huddled in shelters or in battened-down homes in preparation as Irma’s northern eyewall – the area just outside the eye of the storm, where the most damaging winds are – reached the lower Florida Keys.

 The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the hurricane was expected to remain a powerful storm as it moved through the Florida Keys and near the state’s west coast.
The leading edge of the immense storm – one of the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic – bent palm trees and spat rain across south Florida, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses, as the eye approached Key West.

Police said a man was killed in Florida Keys when his pickup truck was involved in an accident. It was thought to be the first death caused by Irma in the US.
The NHC forecast potentially deadly storm surges – water driven ashore by the winds – of up to 15ft (4.6m). As the northern edge of the storm reached the Florida Keys archipelago off the tip of southern Florida, lashing rains and winds knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people on the mainland.
“Pray for us,” the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, said in an ABC News interview as his state braced for the massive storm, which has already left a trail of destruction through the Caribbean.
Irma, which prompted one of the largest evacuations in US history, was a category 4 hurricane about 20 miles (30km) east-southeast of Key West, Florida, at 8 am EDT ( 1pm BST), the NHC reported.
A day after hitting Cuba’s northern coast, Irma was on a path that would take it along Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast, near population centres including Tampa and St Petersburg, the NHC said. Hundreds of thousands of people spent the night in emergency shelters.
“My mobile phone has been screaming its high-pitched alarm every 10 minutes over the last hour or so with dire warnings from the National Weather Service to take cover NOW because of tornadic thunderstorms in the area,” he said.
“The threat of tornadoes comes from thunderstorms in Hurricane Irma’s violent outer bands, which have been circling over Miami-Dade and Broward counties for most of the day as the storm moves ever closer.
“It’s likely to be a long night in the closet with the kids.”
Donald Trump was monitoring the progress of the storm from the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland, where he held a cabinet meeting.
In Palm Beach, Trump’s waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate was under evacuation order.
“This is a storm of enormous destructive power, and I ask everyone in the storm’s path to heed ALL instructions from government officials,” Trump said on Twitter.

Irma lleft a trail of devastation in the Caribbean, with 25 confirmed dead, including 11 people on French St Martin and St Barts, four in the US Virgin Islands, three on Puerto Rico, two on Dutch St Maarten, one person in Anguilla and a two-year-old in Barbuda.
Cuba experienced 125mph (200km/h) winds on Saturday which damaged hotels in the island’s best-known beach resorts and forced evacuations as far along the coast as low-lying areas of the capital, Havana.
Power was out and mobile phone service was spotty in many regions as Irma, the first category 5 storm to make landfall on the island since 1932, passed over. The island’s communist government ordered the evacuation of more than a million people from its path.
The fishing town of Caibarién, where streets were carpeted with fresh green seaweed as the water receded, had been hit by its strongest cyclone ever, according to local people.
Irma’s turn northward was expected to occur about 150 miles (240km) east of Havana. Nevertheless, authorities shut off power in large parts of the city and evacuated about 10,000 people from the central area near the Malecón seawall because of fears of flooding from the storm surge.
By Saturday evening, the sea had penetrated two blocks over parts of the city’s historic seafront boulevard, and the waters were expected to advance further as the surge grew. Restaurants on the seaside drive pulled down their shutters and stacked sandbags.
The Caribbean islands will barely have time to take stock before category 4 Hurricane Jose threatens landfall, complicating relief efforts for islands that have only just emerged from Irma’s winds.
Jose spared Barbuda, where the prime minister estimated 90% of buildings had been destroyed by Irma a few days earlier.
Although Jose is weaker and moving away from the Islands, high winds are likely to hit Puerto Rico and possibly Dominican Republic as soon as Sunday morning local time.
However, residents in the British Virgin Islands described a scene of “utter devastation” in the wake of Irma and pleaded for the UK government to send more food, water and shelter.
Natalie Drury, who lives with her husband in Tortola, said she was in a “state of disbelief” about the destruction left by the storm. Homes and businesses had been destroyed, she said, the streets were strewn with sewage and looters had emptied shops.
“We desperately need help as soon as possible. Food, water, shelter. I’m extremely concerned about health and safety – there is sewage absolutely everywhere.
“It’s worse than anyone could have imagined. The country is going to need some serious help. I have no idea how many people have died. We were told yesterday it’s gone up to 10, but obviously that’s all rumours. Nobody knows yet.”
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