Trail of devastation across the Caribbean as strongest ever Atlantic storm wreaks havoc – Latest News
Most powerful Atlantic hurricane leaves trail of destruction
Robert de Niro vows to help Barbuda rebuild
St Maarten airport destroyed by Irma
At least seven confirmed dead
Briton’s live updates of ‘apocalyptic’ scenes in eye of storm
Emergency declared as storm could hit Florida at weekend
Sir Richard Branson stays safe in wine cellar but buildings on Necker ‘destroyed’
What to do if you are on holiday in the path of the storm
The most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm in recorded history is sweeping across the Caribbean leaving destruction in its wake.
Hurricane Irma howled past Puerto Rico on Wednesday after thrashing several smaller islands with tree-snapping winds, drenching rains and pounding surf on a collision course with Florida.
The tiny island of Barbuda, which has a population of 1,800, and was devastated.
Its Prime Minister Gaston Browne said: “Barbuda is literally rubble. The entire housing stock was damaged. It is just a total devastation.”
His government estimated destruction on Barbuda was “upwards of 90 per cent”.
As Irma hit the Caribbean, with winds of 185mph that sounded like a freight train, buildings were destroyed and hotels flooded.
The eye of Irma was passing just north of Puerto Rico late on Wednesday, buffeting the U.S. island territory’s capital, San Juan, with heavy downpours and strong winds that scattered tree limbs across roadways.
“The winds that we are experiencing right now are like nothing we have experienced before,” Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN. “We expect a lot of damage, perhaps not as much as was seen in Barbuda.”
British tourists were evacuated from the region or hunkered down amid warnings the storm was “potentially catastrophic”. So far seven deaths have been reported- six in St Martin and one, a two-year-old child, in Barbuda
As the Caribbean takes stock of the trail of devastation, Florida is preparing for a potential direct strike. The eye of the hurricane passed over Barbuda at around 1.47am (5.47am BST).
It then moved on to the French islands of St Barts and St Martin, which officials said had suffered “major damage” with even the “most sturdy” buildings destroyed by winds that tore off rooftops and knocked out electricity.
On St Martin, an island split between the Netherlands and France, Irma has destroyed Princess Juliana Airport, which is best known for aircraft flying a matter of feet above holidaymakers on a nearby beach.
A Briton on St Martin posted live updates on Twitter as he sought shelter in a concrete stairwell from “apocalyptic” scenes, writing: “This is like a movie I never want to see.”
Thousands of people have been evacuated as the hurricane churns a path also taking in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly hitting Florida over the weekend.
Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, said the government was in touch with British overseas territories caught up in Irma, and was doing “everything we can to help those afflicted”.
Officials in Puerto Rico had warned people to seek protection from Irma’s “onslaught” in a statement that ended with: “May God protect us all.”
The hurricane is so strong that it appeared on equipment designed to measure earthquakes, and has the potential for coastal storm surges of up to 20 feet (six metres) above normal tide levels.
President Donald Trump has declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, while authorities in the Bahamas said they would evacuate six southern islands.
A mandatory evacuation has been ordered from Florida’s Key West and Miami Beach, where Philip Levine, the mayor, warned that anybody who stayed put would be “on your own._
With thousands of people fleeing Florida, air fares soared. Airlines, however, denied that they were gouging passengers and exploiting the crisis. .
Meanwhile two other storms were upgraded to hurricane status.
Hurricane Jose was 1,040 miles (1,675 kilometres) east of the Lesser Antilles in the Atlantic and packing maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour (120 kilometres per hour), the NHC said.
The NHC said that tropical storm Katia in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico had also become a hurricane.
American Airlines, the largest US carrier by passenger traffic, says it will begin winding down operations in south Florida, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, on Friday. Miami-bound flights arriving on Friday from Europe and South America were cancelled, Reuters reported.
American, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue all announced fare caps on flights out of Florida – $99 on JetBlue and American and $399 on Delta – for residents trying to get out of the storm’s path.
“We want those trying to leave ahead of the hurricane to focus on their safe evacuation rather than worry about the cost of flights,” JetBlue spokesman Doug McGraw said.
Airlines have been criticised in the past for raising prices in the wake of deadly episodes and, as Irma approached, some social media users accused carriers of engaging in price-gouging schemes ahead of the dangerous storm.
In response, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey called on the U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday to launch an investigation into potential opportunistic fare hikes by airlines.
“It would certainly be offensive if airlines – who rely on publicly supported infrastructure and have been bolstered by American taxpayers for nearly a century – used this opportunity to impose unconscionable costs on consumers,” they wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Where is Irma headed?
Hurricane Irma grew into a dangerous Category 5 storm on Tuesday and showed no signs of losing strength. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Irma was a “potentially catastrophic” storm with winds that extend 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the center.
The center of the storm is expected to cross near Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and possibly Florida. It could arrive in South Florida this weekend as a Category 4 or 5 storm. The last major hurricane to hit Florida was in 2005.
How powerful is Irma?
Irma had the most powerful winds ever recorded for a storm in the Atlantic Ocean.
Four other storms have had winds that strong in the overall Atlantic region but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which are usually home to warmer waters that fuel cyclones. Irma was fueled by the unusually warm waters in the Atlantic.
What are the risks?
With Irma’s potentially catastrophic wind and rain set to crash through the low-lying Florida Keys this weekend, many storm-hardened residents don’t seem willing to ride this one out.
From Key Largo to Key West , residents and officials said Irma is a storm to be reckoned with. Keys officials expected to announce a mandatory evacuation Wednesday for visitors, with residents being told to leave the next day.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who plans to fly to the Keys on Wednesday, said a hospital in the island chain would have its patients evacuated by air.
Are resources strained after Harvey?
President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser said the government can handle Hurricane Irma relief because the life-saving phase for Hurricane Harvey is over.
Tom Bossert told The Associated Press that Harvey victims will not be forgotten. He said the government is working on longer-term assistance for those people, such as Small Business Administration loans, unemployment wages and reconstruction.
Irma’s size and strength put the entire state on notice Tuesday. Residents and visitors prepared to leave in anticipation of catastrophic winds and floods.
Puerto Rico’s governor is also warning that the effects of Hurricane Irma could be catastrophic and calling the storm more dangerous than Hurricane Harvey.