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Irma powers towards Florida; toll hits 19
September 09, 2017
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PROVIDENCIALES: Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, drove towards Florida on Friday after lashing the Caribbean with devastating winds and torrential rain, killing 19 people and leaving a swathe of catastrophic destruction.

Irma was about 724km southeast of Miami, Florida, early Friday after saturating the northern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and pummeling the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The hurricane is forecast to slam into the island chain south of Florida known as The Keys on Saturday, then forge a path of destruction northward up the Florida peninsula.

Some six million people live in the counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

US President Donald Trump urged Americans on Friday to get out of the way of Hurricane Irma, calling it an “epic” storm as other officials warned time was running out for people living its path to escape its wrath.

“Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen. Be safe and get out of its way,if possible. Federal G is ready!” Trump tweeted.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told a press briefing Irma is “a remarkably dangerous storm, and the window to get yourself in the right spot for weathering the storm, either evacuating or weathering the storm is closing rapidly.”

The “extremely dangerous” hurricane was downgraded from a Category 5 to a Category 4 early Friday but still packed winds as strong as 240kph, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an advisory at 8am EDT (noon GMT).

Anticipating that Irma will “devastate” part of the United States, US officials were preparing a massive response to the storm, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said on Friday.

Parts of Florida was expected to lose electricity for days, if not longer, and more than 100,000 people may need shelter, FEMA Administrator Brock Long warned at a news conference.

“Hurricane Irma continues to be a threat that is going to devastate the United States in either Florida or some of the southeastern states,” Long said.

More than a million people are under mandatory orders to evacuate in Florida and Georgia, and more states are expected to urge residents to seek higher ground, said Long.

“I can guarantee you that I don’t know anybody in Florida that has ever experienced what is about to hit south Florida,” Long told reporters.

“They need to get out and listen to the advice.”

Long said just three Category 5 hurricanes have hit the United States since 1851, including Hurricane Andrew which leveled much of south Florida in 1992.

“Andrew was a very, very small, compact Category 5 compared to what we are seeing here in Irma,” Long warned.

“It is not a question of if Florida is going to be impacted, it is a question of how bad.”

Officials have thousands of personnel ready to respond and millions of meals and liters of water in place nearby, Long said.

Irma hit the Bahamas on Friday, where it was forecast to bring 6-metre storm surges before moving to Cuba and then slamming into southern Florida on Sunday.

In Miami, hundreds lined up for bottled water and cars looped around city blocks to buy gas on Thursday.

Shortages in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area worsened on Thursday, with sales up to five times the norm.

In Palm Beach, the waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate owned by US President Donald Trump was ordered evacuated, media reported. Trump also owns property on the French side of St. Martin, an island devastated by the storm.

A mandatory evacuation on Georgia’s Atlantic coast was due to begin on Saturday, Governor Nathan Deal said.

Airlines added extra flights from Florida on Thursday before announcing plans to halt service from some southern Florida airports starting Friday afternoon.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price called Irma a “remarkably dangerous storm and the window to get yourself in the right spot is closing rapidly.”

The death toll from the storm has risen as emergency services got access to remote areas pummelled by heavy winds and rain.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said on Friday that nine people were killed and at least seven were missing after the hurricane crashed into France’s Caribbean islands of St. Martin and St. Barthelemy.

“One hundred and twelve people were injured,” Collomb said, adding there could be more victims.

Four people died in the US Virgin islands, a government spokesman said, and a major hospital was badly damaged by the wind.

A US amphibious assault ship arrived in the US Virgin Islands on Thursday and sent helicopters for medical evacuations from the destroyed hospital.

A man was reported missing after trying to cross a river in Cerca La Source in Haiti’s Central Plateau region.

On Thursday, the US Senate voted 80-17 to approve a measure to more than double funding to $15.25 billion to FEMA and for local block grants to handle natural disasters.

FEMA’s disaster assistance fund could run out of money Friday without action, senators said.

The House is expected to approve the measure on Friday.

Agencies

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