Focus on Hurricane Irma

THE NEW YORK TIMES – Hurricane Irma Live Updates: ‘Way Bigger Than Andrew,’ Florida Governor Warns

Hurricane Irma was ripping past the Bahamas and Cuba and cycling toward Florida on Friday, where officials appeared almost hourly to warn the hundreds of thousands of people in the hurricane’s projected path to get out before it is too late. The storm is expected to hit Florida late Saturday.

Irma, downgraded to a category 4 storm, battered the Turks and Caicos overnight, the latest island nation to be swamped. Further east, residents in Barbuda and St. Martin braced for another hit in the coming days from Hurricane José, which was upgraded to a category 4 storm.

Officials are cautioning Florida residents steeled by prior hurricanes to not underestimate the power of Irma, which Gov. Rick Scott said would be “way bigger than Andrew,” referring to the 1992 storm that at the moment remains the most destructive hurricane to hit the state.

Brock Long, the FEMA administrator, cautioned that people from Alabama to North Carolina should be monitoring the storm and making preparations.

“It’s not a question of if Florida’s going to be impacted,” Mr. Long said Friday. “It’s a question of how bad Florida’s going to be impacted.”

Here’s the latest:

• The National Hurricane Center said Irma remained “extremely dangerous,” with winds of 150 miles per hour, and the Florida Keys were at risk of “life-threatening inundation.” Check out our maps tracking the storm.

  • At least 20 people have died because of the storm in the Caribbean.
  • In Florida, a 57-year old man died on Thursday after he fell off a ladder while trying to install storm shutters at a house in Broward County, the Davie Police Department said on Friday.

Irma hits the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas.

Irma lashed the southern Bahamas on Friday with intense winds and rain, leaving a trail of downed trees and power lines, damaged roofs and scattered debris.

Mayaguana and Inagua were among the first Bahamian islands to feel the impact. “It was very loud, you could hear the debris flying around crashing into buildings,” said Marcus Sands, an assistant superintendent with the police in Abraham’s Bay, Mayaguana’s main settlement.

The eye of the storm was expected to move just north of Cuba and the central Bahamas for the rest of Friday and Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Irma was predicted to dump 10 to 15 inches of rain on northern Cuba, with some areas seeing as much as 20 inches. The storm passed Baracoa, a town near Cuba’s eastern tip, on Friday morning, but wrought less havoc there than was expected. Cuban state media reported winds of about 90 m.p.h. and said waves towered over the city’s breakwater, causing localized flooding.

In the Turks and Caicos, Virginia Clerveaux, the director of Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies, said officials were assessing the effects, which included torn-off roofs, electricity outages and widespread flooding.

Irma is among the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the five most forceful storms to hit the Atlantic basin in 82 years, according to the National Hurricane Center. It had been a Category 5 storm, but at 5 a.m. Eastern the center downgraded it based on the lower intensity of sustained winds.

Powerful winds and water devastate the Caribbean.

The island of Barbuda — where nearly all buildings were reduced “to rubble,” according to Prime Minister Gaston Browne — braced for new hardship, in the form of Hurricane José. The storm charged toward the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda and neighboring islands. Antigua and Barbuda’s attorney general and minister of public safety, Steadroy Benjamin, issued a mandatory evacuation order for Barbuda, meaning every citizen will be transported to Antigua.

José is expected to make landfall on Saturday, bringing winds of up to 150 m.p.h. to the islands, threatening those whose homes were lost or damaged by the earlier storm. The toll in the Caribbean from Irma already stands at 20: nine in the French Caribbean, four in the United States Virgin Islands, three in Puerto Rico, two on the Dutch side of St. Martin, one in Barbuda and one in Anguilla.

The islands of St. Martin, St. Barthélemy and Anguilla, which were battered by Irma, were also under a hurricane watch for José. John McKendrick, the attorney general of Anguilla, said on Thursday that the island had suffered “huge devastation” from the first storm. Darrell Gumbs, a constable in the Royal Anguilla Police Force, was still answering phones on Friday at his police station, despite the fact that the building’s roof had been blown off.

Residents were using the time between the two storms to clean up as much as possible, “so we don’t have debris flying around,” Mr. Gumbs said.

Up to 90 percent of the homes on the island were damaged, fallen trees blocked many roads, cellphone service was interrupted and electrical service was cut.

In addition, the ports and the airport remained closed because of damage. St. Martin was dealing with a similar level of devastation.

Other parts of the Caribbean that braced for Irma’s wrath were bypassed by the worst of the storm, including the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which share the island of Hispaniola. Damage from flooding and power outages was reported on the Haitian side. Three people were killed in Puerto Rico, and around two-thirds of the population lost electricity, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said.

The storm also lashed a U.S. territory.

Residents of the United States Virgin Islands said Friday that the island of St. Thomas, which is the center of the chain’s cruise ship industry, had suffered significant damage from Hurricane Irma. At least four people died in the United States territory, the islands’ governor said.

The extent of the destruction in much of the territory, including on St. John, is not yet known, because of the lack of phone service and electricity.

The roofs of the government’s headquarters building on St. Thomas and the island’s only hospital were blown off, and a large number of homes on the island were destroyed or damaged, said Holland Redfield, a former Virgin Islands senator who now works as a radio talk show host.

Tom Price, the United States health and human services secretary, said Friday that the hospital was closing and its patients were being transported to facilities on other islands. (See what the damage was like in this part of the Caribbean in photos and videos from the area and from firsthand accounts.)

Irma, which also ripped apart buildings and boats on the island of St. John, left the island of St. Croix relatively unscathed, said Mr. Redfield, who rode out the storm on St. Croix.

The hurricane, which also damaged police and fire stations, comes amid a crippling financial crisis on the Virgin Islands that left the government unable to pay for basic operations earlier this year.

Kenneth E. Mapp, the islands’ governor, was scheduled to travel to St. Thomas on Friday to survey damage. On Thursday he cautioned residents: “Recovery is not going to happen in just weeks or a few months given the level of the devastation.”

Reporting was contributed by Marc Santora from Miami Beach; Carl Joseph from Antigua; Erica Wells from Nassau, Bahamas; Kirk Semple from Mexico City; Sewell Chan from London; Aurelien Breeden from Paris; and Daniel Victor, Lisa Friedman, Christine Hauser and Megan Specia from New York.

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