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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Hurricanes Irma: a trail of destruction

Hurricane Irma pummelled Florida on Sunday, killing three people after causing at least 27 deaths in a multi-billion-dollar rampage through the Caribbean

Destruction in Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma. Ricardo Arduengo / AP Photo
Destruction in Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma. Ricardo Arduengo / AP Photo

Hurricane Irma pummelled Florida on Sunday, killing three people after causing at least 27 deaths in a multi-billion-dollar rampage through the Caribbean.

Irma churned over the lower Florida Keys islands as a Category Four hurricane before making a second landfall on the peninsula's south-western coast.

Although Irma was downgraded to a Category Two storm, it was still packing dangerous winds of up to 170kph as it neared Fort Myers, a major tourist destination in south-western Florida.

Read more: Three dead as Hurricane Irma makes second landfall at Naples

It was expected to remain a hurricane through at least Monday with a turn to the north-northwest overnight, according to the National Hurricane Center.

A second Category Four hurricane, Jose, followed part of Irma's track, but spared the storm-hit Caribbean islands of St Martin and St Barts, which had already suffered catastrophic damage from Irma.

Jose, veering north towards the mid-Atlantic, is expected to pose no threat to the United States.

The National's Rob Crilly describes what it’s like to be in the path of one of the strongest storms to hit America since records began

Read Rob Crilly's Hurricane Irma diary here

Irma death toll

The death toll is at least 30: Fourteen in the French island of St Barts and the Dutch-French territory of St Martin; six in the British Caribbean islands; at least four in the US Virgin Islands; at least two in Puerto Rico; and one in Barbuda.

Three other deaths occurred in Florida due to car accidents sparked by strong winds and torrential rain.

The International Red Cross said 1.2 million people have already been affected by Irma - a number that could rise to 26 million.

The combined economic cost of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could reach US$290 billion, equivalent to 1.5 per cent of the US GDP, AccuWeather said in a report.

Barbuda

Irma hit the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda on Wednesday as a Category Five hurricane, with winds of up to 295 kph. The island suffered "absolute devastation," with up to 30 percent of properties demolished, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.

One person is known to have died on the island of 1,600 residents, apparently a child whose family was trying to get to safer ground.

St Martin, St Barts and Anguilla

The holiday islands of St Martin and St Barts, also hit on Wednesday, suffered the highest toll among Caribbean victims of Irma.

St Martin is divided between France and the Netherlands. France said 10 people had died on its side of the island, while the Netherlands said the storm killed four on the Dutch side, called Sint Maarten. On the Dutch side, 70 percent of the infrastructure has been destroyed.

France's state-owned reinsurer CCR estimates damage on the two islands at 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion).

France and the Netherlands are rushing in logistical support, as well as hundreds of extra police to clamp down on looting.

French aid includes helicopters, engineering equipment, medical supplies and a million litres (265,000 gallons) of water, as the three water-treatment plants will be knocked out for months.

French President Emmanuel Macron will arrive in St Martin Tuesday.

In the British archipelago of Anguilla, one man was crushed to death in a house collapse.

British Virgin Islands

Five people were killed in the British Virgin Islands, according to the local government.

Just east of Puerto Rico, it is home to roughly 28,000 people and includes British billionaire Richard Branson's Necker Island.

US Virgin Islands

At least four people were killed in the US Virgin Islands, officials told AFP.

Puerto Rico

At least two people were killed in the US territory of Puerto Rico, and more than half of its three million residents were without power after rivers broke their banks in the centre and north of the island.

Dominican Republic

Some 20,000 people were evacuated and more than 2,000 homes affected by floods in the Dominican Republic, the eastern part of the island of Hispaniola, which is also shared with Haiti.

Haiti

Irma brought flooding and caused injuries in Haiti, but passed further north than had been forecast, sparing the impoverished island the worst. A number of roads were washed out.

Cuba

Irma made landfall on the island's Camaguey Archipelago late Friday, knocking down power lines, uprooting trees and ripping the roofs off homes.

Authorities said they had evacuated more than a million people as a precaution, including about 4,000 in the capital.

Ambulances and firefighters patrolled streets littered with hunks of roofs, power lines and tree branches brought down by strong winds that blasted over Cuba on Saturday.

Irma: Where next?

Irma toppled cranes, swallowed streets and left millions without power as it unleashed its terrifying fury on the US state of Florida, threatening the coastal cities of Naples and Fort Myers and Tampa Bay with storm surges of up to 15 feet (4.5 meters), according to the National Hurricane Center.

A total of 6.3 million people have been asked to leave their homes in Florida.

A state of emergency has been declared in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia, as well as in Florida. Georgia ordered the evacuation of the city of Savannah and other coastal areas.

President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would go to Florida "very soon" to assess relief efforts.

Hurricanes Jose and Katia

Hurricane Jose, after strengthening to Category Four status, passed 135 km (83 miles) north of St Barts and 125 km from Saint Martin.

France's meteorological agency issued its highest warning, saying Jose could become a "dangerous event of exceptional intensity."

But "thanks to a passage which was further away than anticipated, the effects on the territory

were markedly less," the meteorological agency said.

Another hurricane, Katia, made landfall in eastern Mexico late Friday killing two people, just as the country grappled with the deaths and damage inflicted by its worst earthquake in a century.

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