Hurricane Irma – Storm Batters Caribbean Islands, Evacuations in Florida

Hurricane Irma has caused catastrophic damage in Barbuda, St Barthelemy, St Martin, Anguilla, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands between 06 and 07 September, as it continues on its path across the Caribbean towards Florida.

The hurricane brought storm surges of 3 metres to parts of St Martin and dumped over 250 mm of rain in some areas of Puerto Rico. However, most of the damage has been caused by Irma’s overwhelming winds.

Irma remains a category 5 hurricane and currently has maximum sustained winds of around 165 mph (270 km/h) with higher gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Irma is forecast to remain a powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days.

Barbuda

The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, said about 90% of the buildings in Barbuda had suffered some damage and around 1,000 people are homeless. One fatality has been confirmed, with 2 people reported as missing.

“It’s absolute devastation,” he told the BBC after flying over the island, home to some 1,600 people. “The island is literally under water. In fact, I’m of the view that, as it stands now, Barbuda is barely habitable.”
He told the BBC that 50% of the Barbuda population were now homeless and that it would cost $100m (£80m) to rebuild the island.

It is thought that nearly all damages caused on Barbuda were a result of strong winds. However, preliminary data from NOAA suggests that Barbuda experienced a significant storm surge on 06 September.

Irma storm surge: preliminary figures – tide levels Barbuda, September 2017. Image: NOAA

St Martin

It is a similar situation in St Martin, an island that comprises the French territory of Saint-Martin and the Dutch section Sint-Maarten, where wind damage has been devastating.

Daniel Gibbs, the president of the country’s French territorial council said 95% of the island of St. Martin was destroyed. Four deaths have been reported in St Martin.

Météo-France said that storm surge associated with Irma caused coastal flooding, adding that “the sea level rise exceeded 3 metres at some points along the coast.”  Rainfall totals for St Martin were unavailable.

Hurricane Irma destruction, Sint-Maarten, 06 September 2017. Photo: Netherlands Ministry of defence
Hurricane Irma destruction, Sint-Maarten, 06 September 2017. Photo: Netherlands Ministry of defence
Hurricane Irma destruction, Sint-Maarten, 06 September 2017. Photo: Netherlands Ministry of defence

Anguilla

Another fatality was reported British Overseas Territory of Anguilla, where homes, public buildings and roads have suffered major damage.

Puerto Rico

Irma caused major damage in Puerto Rico on 07 September, where at least 3 people have died, according to the governor’s office.

There has also been severe flooding in some areas, caused by heavy rain and storm surge. According to NWS, parts of Puerto Rico recorded over 250 mm of rain on 07 September.  NWS San Juan earlier today said that several rivers were out of their banks or running high and that more rain is expected to fall on what is already saturated ground. Flash Flood Watch is in effect for Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands.

The overflowing rivers include: Rio Culebrinas at Aguada, Rio Guanajibo at Mayaguez, Rio de la Plata as Toa Alta, Rio Grande de Arecibo at Arecibo and Rio Grande de Manati as Manati.

Rainfall map of Puerto Rico, 07 September 2017. Image: NWS / NOAA

Virgin Islands

Irma also caused major damage across the US and British Virgin Islands. Four people are confirmed to have died in the US Virgin Islands. US president Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency and a major disaster.

UK foreign minister Alan Duncan said: “The British Virgin Islands were also not spared the hurricane’s full force. Our initial assessment is of severe damage and we expect that the islands will need extensive humanitarian assistance which we will of course provide.”

Irma storm surge: preliminary figures – tide levels at St Croix US Virgin Islands, September 2017. Image: NOAA

Irma Heads Towards Bahamas

In its latest advisory, the National Hurricane Center said:

“On the forecast track, the eye of Irma should continue to move westward away from the Turks and Caicos Islands and toward the southeastern Bahamas overnight. The core of the hurricane will then move between the north coast of Cuba and the Bahamas during the next day or two.”

The low-lying Turks and Caicos islands, a British overseas territory, are said to be at risk of a storm surge, according to NHC, with the possibility of destructive waves up to 6m (20ft) higher than usual. Eight to 12 inches (200 mm to 300 mm) of rain is also forecast between Friday and Sunday, with 20 inches (500 mm) possible in isolated areas.

Southeastern and central Bahamas face storm surges of 15 to 20 ft (6 metres), and Northwestern Bahamas 5 to 10 ft (3 metres). Twelve to 16 inches (300 mm to 400 mm) of rain is also forecast between Friday and Sunday, with 25 inches (635 mm) possible in isolated areas.

Florida

In Florida, Governor Scott has activated a total of 4,000 members of the Florida Army and Air National Guard to support with planning, and logistics operations in preparation for potential impacts from Hurricane Irma.

Evacuation order have been issued for wide areas of the state. These include mandatory orders for parts of the counties of Brevard, Collier, Flagler, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach and Pinellas.

NHC says that Hurricane and Storm Surge Watches are in effect for portions of South Florida and the Florida Keys, where surges could reach 10 feet (3 metres) above ground level from Jupiter Inlet to Bonita Beach.

As much as 8 to 12 inches  (200 mm to 300 mm) of rain is forecast to fall between Friday and Sunday in Southeast Florida and the upper Florida Keys, with a possible 20 inches (500 mm) in isolated areas.

Storm surge warnings for Florida as Hurricane Irma approaches. Image: NOAA

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