Hurricane Irma pummeled Cuba as Florida hunkered down for a direct hit

Vastavam web: Hurricane Irma pummeled the north coast of Cuba today, inflicting “significant damage” as millions of people in the US state of Florida hunkered down for a direct hit from the monster storm.Irma’s blast through the Cuban coastline weakened the storm to a Category Three, but it is still packing 205 kilometer per hour and was expected to regain power before hitting the Florida Keys early tomorrow, US forecasters.At least 19 people have been killed since Irma began its devastating march through the Caribbean as a Category Five storm of nearly unmatched power, making landfall late yesterday in Cuba on the Camaguey archipelago.
The governor of Camaguey province, Isabel Gonzalez Cardenas, said her area was “seriously affected,” but there were no immediate reports of casualties. Cuban officials reported “significant damage.” More than a million people evacuated from vulnerable areas in Cuba.In Florida, cities on both the east and west coasts of the peninsular state took on the appearance of ghost towns, as nervous residents heeded insistent evacuation orders affecting 5.6 million people.But Irma is so wide that authorities were bracing for destructive storm surges on both coasts and the Keys, the chain of low-lying islands that stretch south of Miami toward Cuba.
And hurricane-force winds are expected to lash the peninsula as it rolls north toward Georgia.In Key West, police opened a “shelter of last resort” for those fool-hardy enough to ignore mandatory evacuation orders.”Nobody can be prepared for a storm surge. They can destroy everything,” said David Wallack, a 67-year-old salsa club owner attempting to secure his property on the city’s Ocean Drive.”We just can pray for the best. You put what you can in a suitcase and hope.”
Across the peninsula the Gulf coast city of Fort Myers also was battening down for Irma’s screaming winds, rain and storm surge.Warning that Irma would be worse than Hurricane Andrew which killed 65 people in 1992 Florida’s governor said all 20.6 million Floridians should prepare to flee.Bumper-to-bumper traffic snaked north out of the state, with mattresses, gas cans and kayaks strapped to car roofs.Cuban-American Orlando Reyes, 82, was forced to flee his assisted living facility in Miami Beach.The storm smashed through a string of Caribbean islands, beginning with tiny Barbuda on Wednesday, followed by the holiday islands of St Barts and St Martin.
Also affected were the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos. The Bahamas were spared Irma’s worst.French state-owned reinsurer CCR estimated Irma had caused USD 1.4 billion worth of damage to homes, vehicles and businesses in the territories of Saint Martin and Saint Barts.Jose, another powerful Category 4 storm, was heading towards the same string of Caribbean islands Irma has pummeled in recent days.The deteriorating weather grounded aircraft and prevented boats from bringing relief supplies to hard-hit islands.Katia, which made landfall in eastern Mexico late Friday as a Category One hurricane, had weakened by Saturdayto a tropical depression. Mexico reported two people killed by mudslides unleashed by the heavy rains.Another four people were killed on the US Virgin Islands, with a number of badly injured people airlifted to Puerto Rico.
A child died in Barbuda, where 30 per cent of properties were demolished and the entire island has been evacuated.France said at least 10 people had been killed across its Caribbean territories, with seven more missing. There were 112 people injured, two seriously.