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One million evacuated as Hurricane Irma lashes Cuba

Published: Updated:

Hurricane Irma’s powerful winds on Friday began whipping the east and center of Cuba, where more than a million people have evacuated their homes as a precaution.

At 1600 GMT, the eye of the storm was located around 190 kilometers (120 miles) northeast of Nuevitas, in Cuba’s central Camaguey province, moving west-northwest at a speed of 22 kilometers per hour, according to the national weather institute, Insmet.

According to an AFP tally of Cuban civil defense figures, close to a million people have left their homes as a precaution -- either to stay with relatives or in official shelters.

Winds on Cuba’s eastern coast were peaking at around 95 kilometers per hour (60 miles per hour), but heavy rains have already triggered flooding in coastal areas of the far eastern provinces of Holguin and Guantanamo.

Authorities were expecting both the wind and rain to pick up as the dangerous Category Four storm churns past the center of the island overnight Friday into Saturday, with Camaguey and Villa Clara provinces the most exposed.

The Caribbean’s biggest island, Cuba has already evacuated 10,000 foreign tourists from beach resorts and raised its disaster alert level to maximum as Irma drew near.

Havana is expected to be spared the worst, but has been placed on hurricane alert as a precaution.

Packing winds of 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour), Irma has left a trail of devastation across small islands in the Caribbean, and is set to barrel past Cuba on a collision course with the southeast US coast.

Cuba AP
Cuba AP

Hurricane Irma will ‘devastate’ part of US

Anticipating that Hurricane 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.

With Irma set to hit Florida as early as Saturday night, 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.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is urging residents along the state’s Gulf Coast to get out of evacuation zones as Hurricane Irma’s path has moved slightly west.

During a news conference on Friday afternoon in Lee County in southwest Florida, Scott warned of storm surge which could be between 6 and 12 feet.

“You are not going to survive this if it happens,” Scott told residents. “Now is the time to evacuate.”

“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.

Irma was a Category 5 hurricane, the most dangerous measure by the National Hurricane Center, before being downgraded to Category 4 early Friday after pummeling islands in the Caribbean.

The United States has experienced only three Category 5 storms since 1851 and Irma is far larger than the last one to hit the United States in 1992, Hurricane Andrew, according to Long.

He warned people not to ignore evacuation orders.

“They need to get out and listen and heed the warnings,” Long said.

This image made from video shows several damaged houses by Hurricane Irma in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. (AP)
This image made from video shows several damaged houses by Hurricane Irma in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. (AP)



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

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump warned of Hurricane Irma's destructive potential on Friday as the Category 5 storm headed toward Florida and urged residents in its path to heed government recommendations.

“This is a storm of absolutely historic destructive potential. I ask everyone in the storm’s path to be vigilant and to heed all recommendations from government officials and law enforcement,” Trump said in a videotaped statement.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump warned of Hurricane Irma’s destructive potential on Friday as the Category 5 storm headed toward Florida and urged residents in its path to heed government recommendations.

“This is a storm of absolutely historic destructive potential. I ask everyone in the storm’s path to be vigilant and to heed all recommendations from government officials and law enforcement,” Trump said in a videotaped statement.

The National Weather Service said that Friday was the last day to evacuate before winds would start to reach unsafe speeds in Florida.

Massive power cut likely

Hurricane Irma threatens to knock out power to more than 4.1 million homes and businesses served by Florida Power & Light (FPL), affecting around nine million people based on the current storm track, the utility's chief executive said on Friday.

"Everyone in Florida will be impacted in some way by this storm," Eric Silagy said at a news conference, urging FPL customers to be prepared for a multiweek restoration process.

FPL is the biggest power company in Florida serving almost half of the state's 20.6 million residents.

Outages across the state will likely top 4.1 million customers since other utilities, including units of Duke Energy Corp, Southern Co and Emera Inc, will also suffer outages but have not yet estimated how many.

Irma poses a significantly bigger menace to power supplies in Florida than Hurricane Harvey did in Texas because Irma is packing 150 mile-per-hour winds that could down electric lines and close nuclear and other power plants.

Extra flights

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.”

Price said the main hospital in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands was closed after being damaged by Irma, and critically ill patients were being evacuated to Puerto Rico or other islands.

ALSO READ: Saudis come to the aid of Hurricane Harvey survivors in Houston

On Friday, the US House of Representatives voted 316-90 to approve a measure to more than double funding to $15.25 billion for FEMA and local block grants to handle natural disasters after the Senate passed the measure Thursday, 80-17.

FEMA’s disaster assistance fund could have run out of money on Friday without action. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the measure on Friday.

The measure also extends the life of the National Flood Insurance Program through December 5. It had been set to expire on September 30.

(With AFP, AP)

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