By Tyla MacAllister
Category 5 Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean Islands Wednesday. By nightfall at least seven deaths and two injuries had been confirmed. Six of the deaths occurred on the islands of St Martin/Saint Barts and one death was confirmed in Barbuda. The death toll is expected to rise as many areas are still inaccessible.
“Barbuda is literally rubble”
The island of Barbuda took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma at around 2:00 a.m. EDT Wednesday. The Barbuda Weather Station recorded sustained wind speeds of 119 miles per hour and gusts of 155 miles per hour before it went offline as the storm came ashore.
Communications were cut off as power poles and all the cellular phone towers on the island were were brought down by the powerful Category 5 storm. The storm surge on the island reached at least eight feet. Barbuda is only 125 feet above sea level at its highest point.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said in a Wednesday morning Facebook post that Barbuda’s sister island, Antigua had escaped Hurricane Irma with minimal damage but it became apparent later in the day Barbuda had not fared as well. “Barbuda is literally rubble,” Browne said after visiting the island Wednesday afternoon.
Browne said an infant is confirmed dead and at least 90 percent of the island’s structures have been destroyed.
Browne estimated at least 60 percent of Barbuda’s roughly 1,800 residents are now homeless after the storm. He added that the 80,000 residents of Antigua will be ready to help their fellow citizens recover. It is expected to cost at least $150 million to rebuild the island.
Prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda says Irma has damaged or destroyed nearly every building on Barbuda. https://t.co/sh8u5D68aQ
— The Associated Press (@AP) September 7, 2017
Most Buildings On Saint Martin Flattened; At Least 6 People Dead
After devastating Barbuda, Irma moved on to cause catastrophic damage on the islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barts. French interior minister Gerard Collomb told reporters Wednesday afternoon, “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.”
The buildings destroyed include the island’s administrative building as well as the police and fire stations.
“The situation in St Martin and St Barts is dramatic — there is no drinking water, electricity, public buildings are unusable, houses have been destroyed. We estimate that some 60, 70 percent of the houses have been destroyed in St Martin,”
Guadeloupe prefect Eric Maire said Wednesday. He confirmed 6 deaths in French Saint Martin but added, “This is not the final toll. Far from it. We sadly risk further discoveries.”
In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron told the media on Wednesday evening, “We will have victims to lament, and the material damage on the two islands is considerable.”
Irma Batters Puerto Rico; San Juan Avoids Direct Hit
By 6 p.m. Wednesday Irma moved away from the northern Virgin Islands and began lashing Puerto Rico with hurricane force winds. The eye of the storm was located about 60 miles north of San Juan and it appeared the city has avoided a direct hit.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló tweeted late Wednesday afternoon that around 2,800 residents had evacuated to shelters. Late Wednesday night around 1 million people were without power in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican officials warned residents earlier this week to expect power outages lasting weeks or months in more remote areas of the islands. The Puerto Rican economy has been in recession for nearly a decade and its infrastructure has suffered during the financing crisis. Power to San Juan should be restored within a few days after Irma passes the islands.
Irma Expected To Reach The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Thursday
Hurricane Irma will continue to affect Puerto Rico into Thursday and tropical storm conditions will reach the The Domnican Republic, Haiti, The Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos by Thursday night. Cuba will begin experiencing tropical storm conditions early Friday but the island is expected to avoid a direct hit.
Florida Declares State Of Emergency; Evacuations Begin
The latest Hurricane Irma update continues to predict a direct hit on Florida this weekend. A large area of high pressure in the Northern Atlantic is expected to dissipate, pulling the storm to the north and east by Saturday.
Even if Florida is spared from Irma’s eyewall, the hurricane measures about 450 miles across so the entire 100 mile wide Florida peninsula is likely to experience hurricane conditions.
Governor Rick Scott declared a State of Emergency for all 67 Florida counties in a press conference Wednesday. Scott said Irma is “bigger,stronger, and faster” than Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 Hurricane that destroyed much of Miami-Dade County in 1992. He urged residents to “Get out quickly” if they come under evacuation orders.
Visitors to the Florida Keys were ordered to evacuate Wednesday morning and residents began leaving at 7 p.m. An estimated 25,000 people have evacuated the barrier islands.
Mandatory evacuations for Broward and Miami-Dade Counties and all barrier islands east of U.S. Highway 1 will begin on Thursday.
Georgia and the Carolinas Prepare For Irma
Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina are expected to be in the path of Hurricane Irma after it turns toward the north this weekend. The storm could make landfall near Savannah early next week.