Torrential rain pounded Haiti on Thursday as monster Hurricane Irma roared past the country’s northern coast, triggering flooding and injuries, local officials said.
In the town of Ouanaminthe, on the border with the Dominican Republic, homes were flooded with up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) of water, according to the Haitian civil protection agency.
Two people were injured when an uprooted coconut tree crashed onto their home near Cap-Haitien, the agency said.
Hurricane Irma continued to pound the Caribbean Thursday, flattening homes and killing half a dozen people as it roared northwest towards the United States.
At 2100 GMT on Thursday, the eye of the monster storm was located a few dozen miles north of Haiti, churning past Turks and Caicos and heading for the Bahamas.
Poor Haitians were left to face Irma’s fury alone as authorities showed little sign of preparing for a what forecasters said could be a catastrophic event.
Many were clinging to the hope that damage could be less than feared, after the path of the Category Five storm veered north away from Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas.
On collision course with Florida
Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, howled past Puerto Rico on Wednesday after thrashing several smaller Caribbean islands with tree-snapping winds, drenching rains and pounding surf on a collision course with Florida.
At least four people were reported killed on four different islands by Irma, which weather forecasters have described as a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 storm, the highest US classification for hurricanes.
The dual-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda was especially hard hit. The northernmost island, Barbuda, home to roughly 1,800 people, was “totally demolished,” with 90 percent of all dwellings there leveled, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said, according to island television broadcasts.
Browne said one person was confirmed killed on Barbuda. A second storm-related fatality, that of a surfer, was reported on Barbados, and the French government said at least two people were killed in Caribbean island territories of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, with power knocked out on both.
On track to Florida
Irma, with top sustained winds of 300 km per hour, was on track to reach Florida on Saturday or Sunday, becoming the second major hurricane to hit the US mainland in as many weeks. While Irma’s intensity could fluctuate, and its precise course remained uncertain, the storm was expected to remain at least a Category 4 before arriving in Florida.
Two other hurricanes formed on Wednesday. Katia in the Gulf of Mexico posed no threat to the United States, according to US forecasters, but Hurricane Jose in the open Atlantic, about 1,610 km east of the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles islands, could also eventually threaten the US mainland.
The flurry of severe storm activity comes after Hurricane Harvey claimed about 60 lives and caused property damage estimated as high as $180 billion after pummeling the Gulf Coasts of Texas and Louisiana with torrential rains and severe flooding.
Florida emergency management officials, chastened by Harvey’s devastation, began evacuations days in advance of Irma’s arrival, ordering all tourists to leave the Florida Keys, a resort archipelago off the state’s southern tip, starting Wednesday morning. Evacuation of residents from the Keys was to begin Wednesday evening.
‘The big one’
Ed Rappaport, acting director of the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center, interviewed on local station WFOR-TV, called Irma a “once-in-a-generation storm,” adding that for South Florida, “It’s the big one for us.” Florida’s normally storm-jaded residents appeared to be taking the warnings seriously, too.
“A lot of times they end up having hurricane parties instead of evacuating,” Monroe county spokeswoman Cammy Clark told Reuters by phone. “That’s been the opposite this time around.” In Cuba, just 145 km south of the Keys, authorities posted a hurricane alert for the island’s central and eastern regions, as residents in Havana, the capital, were seen waiting line lines to stock up on foodstuffs, water and gasoline.
The eye of Irma was passing just north of Puerto Rico late Wednesday, buffeting the US island territory’s capital, San Juan, with heavy downpours and strong winds that scattered tree limbs across roadways. “The winds that we are experiencing right now are like nothing we have experienced before,” Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN. “We expect a lot of damage, perhaps not as much as was seen in Barbuda.”
On its current path the core of Irma, which the NHC said marked the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the five most forceful storms to hit the Atlantic basin in 82 years, was expected to scrape the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday. It was on a track that would put it near the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas by Thursday evening.
Trump resort in storm path
US President Donald Trump said he and aides were monitoring Irma’s progress. “But it looks like it could be something that will be not good. Believe me, not good,” he told reporters.
Trump, whose waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, could take a direct hit from the storm, has already approved emergency declarations for Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, mobilizing federal disaster relief efforts. He spoke with governors of all three by telephone on Wednesday, the White House said.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said Irma could be more devastating than Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that struck the state in 1992 and still ranks as one of the costliest ever in the United States.