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Northern Caribbean islands feel Irma’s wrath

Thursday, September 7, 2017
A flooded street in St Martin caused by Hurricane Irma yesterday. PHOTO: JESSIE MAY VENTOUR

ST JOHN’S, Antigua—Monster Hurricane Irma, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean, is still pummelling parts of the northern Caribbean with its Category 5 winds and heavy rains.

Irma made landfall on Barbuda in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and initial reports indicate that roofs of homes and other buildings were blown off by the hurricane packing 185 mile-per-hour winds.

While there was similar damage reported in Antigua, the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) said in a statement issued around 8 am yesterday that “the preliminary report is indicating that damage across Antigua and Barbuda is minimal”.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne issued a statement after 9 am, indicating that Antigua had indeed been spared the worst, as he gave thanks to God for his mercy on the twin-island nation and congratulated residents for heeding his warnings to treat Hurricane Irma with absolute seriousness and ensure they were as prepared as possible.

“The forecast was that Antigua would be devastated, our infrastructure demolished, people killed and our economy destroyed. In the light of day, the picture is very different. In Antigua, no life has been lost—all the people survived. The guests in our hotels are all well. Even our animals were protected from this massive storm,” he said.

Browne announced that flights into and out of Antigua would resume by 2 pm yesterday.

“We received feedback from the District Disaster Co-ordinators, who have already begun some assessment. An initial situation overview is being conducted which will give an indication of the damage and where pockets of damage are concentrated,” it said.

However, NODS did acknowledge that there is still no clear picture of the extent of the damage in Barbuda, as there had been no communication with Barbuda since 12.30 am.

“We are presently trying to re-establish communication with Barbuda to get a clearer picture of the situation there…Before communication was lost, we got reports of several buildings having damaged roofs, [including] the police station. The Barbuda Weather Station, monitored by the Met Office, recorded sustained winds of 119 mph and gusts of 150 mph,” it reported.

After impacting Barbuda, Irma headed towards the French Caribbean islands of St Martin and St Barthélemy.

The French government has confirmed widespread flooding and electrical blackouts on both islands.

In St Martin, government offices—the most sturdy on the island—were partly destroyed, the fire station damaged and several roofs were blown off. The island has been without electricity since 6 am yesterday.

“We know that the four most solid buildings on the island have been destroyed which means that more rustic structures have probably been completely or partially destroyed,” French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said.

In St Barthélemy, firefighters had to take refuge on the first floor of the fire station which was under a metre of water; several homes have been damaged and roofs blown off and there is a total blackout.

At 8 am, the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) in Miami said the eye of Irma had passed over St Martin, while the northern eyewall was pounding Anguilla.

By 2 pm, the extremely dangerous core of the hurricane was passing over the northernmost Virgin Islands.

At that time, Hurricane Irma was about 20 miles east northeast of St Thomas, US Virgin Islands and 90 miles east of San Juan, Puerto Rico, moving west northwest at 16 miles per hour.

“On the forecast track, the extremely dangerous core of Irma will continue to move over portions of the Virgin Islands during the next couple of hours, pass near or just north of Puerto Rico this afternoon or tonight, pass near or just north of the coast of the Dominican Republic Thursday, and be near the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas late Thursday,” the NHC said.


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