Irma’s destruction: island by island

The category five hurricane has ripped through the Caribbean, leaving flattened landscapes, flash floods and loss of life

Claire Phipps
Last modified on Thursday 7 September 2017 08.24 EDT
Antigua and Barbuda

Barbuda, the first island to feel the force of Hurricane Irma was devastated by its high winds, with Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, saying 90% of buildings had been destroyed and 50% of the population of around 1,000 people left homeless.

One person – a two-year-old child – is confirmed to have died in the storm. Michael Joseph, president of the Red Cross in Antigua and Barbuda said:

The devastation is not like we’ve ever seen before – we’re talking about the whole country … of Barbuda being significantly destroyed.

Critical facilities including roads and communications systems were ravaged, with the recovery effort set to take months or years. Some residents are expected to be evacuated to the larger sister island of Antigua – where damage was less severe – as part of relief efforts and ahead of the prospective arrival of Hurricane Jose this weekend.

Browne said he would order the evacuation of Barbuda if forecasters predict that Jose will hit the island in the coming days.

Barbuda suffers ‘unprecedented’ damage from Irma

One person died in the British overseas territory, said Ronald Jackson, executive director of the Caribbean disaster and emergency management agency, who added that “police stations, hospitals, school facilities, three or four emergency shelters, a home for the infirm and the aged, as well as the fire station”, along with many homes, had been damaged or destroyed.

Foreign office minister Alan Duncan said: “The initial assessment is that the damage has been severe and in places critical.”

The tourist board said major resorts on the island had withstood the onslaught. The airport and two ports remain closed.

The British government has been accused of a failure to respond speedily to the devastation.

St Kitts & Nevis

Prime minister Timothy Harris said St Kitts was “spared the full brunt” of Irma, but warned of “significant damage” to property and infrastructure, as well as power failures. The airport is due to reopen on Thursday.

St Martin and St Barts

The French part of the island (the southern side, St Maarten, is administered by the Netherlands) was “95% destroyed”, according to Daniel Gibb, a local official, who called it “an enormous catastrophe”:

I have sick people to evacuate, I have a population to evacuate because I don’t know where I can shelter them.

At least eight people were killed in St Martin, according to French officials. The number of victims on the Dutch half of the island, St Maatren, is unknown. Netherlands prime minister Mark Rutte says there has been “enormous material damage” to St Maarten.

The Netherlands has sent marines to St Maarten, and two aid flights.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, earlier said he expected Irma-related damage to St Martin and another French overseas collectivity, Saint Barthélemy (St Barts), would be “considerable”. France’s overseas minister, Annick Girardin, was travelling to the Caribbean with emergency teams and supplies.

Storm Irma hits Saint Martin island – video
Virgin Islands

Significant damage has been reported from the British Virgin Islands, where critical facilities, as well as homes, businesses and supermarkets, have been devastated.

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.”

Sam Branson, son of Virgin businessman Richard Branson – who saw out the storm in a bunker on his private island of Necker – said “a lot of buildings” had been destroyed.

US president Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency in the US Virgin Islands, which were also struck. There were reports of extensive damage to buildings, and of land entirely stripped of vegetation. A public health emergency has also been declared.

Puerto Rico

The most recent island to be hit was Puerto Rico, where lashing winds and rains have left most of the population without power and tens of thousands without water. Images from the island showed flash flooding, and hospitals were forced to rely on generators.

Irma is the worst hurricane to hit the island since 1928, when Hurricane San Felipe killed more than 2,700 people across Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and Florida.

More than two thirds of homes in Puerto Rico are without electricity, and 17% are without water, officials have said.

Where next?

The eye of the storm is due to pass just north of Hispaniola – the Dominican Republic and Haiti – on Thursday, moving on to Turks and Caicos and the southern Bahamas by Thursday evening.

The US National Hurricane Center warned that the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti could expect 10 inches (25cm) of rain, with storm surges lifting water levels in the Turks and Caicos Islands and south-eastern and central Bahamas by 15-20ft (4.5-6m) above normal levels.

Bahamas prime minister Hubert Minnis said his government was evacuating people from six islands in the south to the capital, Nassau, in the largest storm evacuation in the country’s history.

A hurricane watch remains in place in Cuba.

By Friday, Irma could hit Florida, where mandatory evacuation orders have already been issued for residents in Miami-Dade and Miami Beach, who must leave their homes on Thursday. All hospitals in the Florida Keys archipelago will close at 7am Friday.

Florida will be ‘directly impacted’ by Hurricane Irma, governor says
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