Category 5 Hurricane Irma: makes landfall in Caribbean

One of the most powerful Atlantic storms ever recorded, Hurricane Irma made landfall at 2am, with winds of up to 185mph causing mounting anxiety in residents

Photo: ABC News
Photo: ABC News

Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms ever recorded, made landfall at around 2 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday, with the eye passing over Barbuda, the National Hurricane Centre said.

With winds of up to 185mph, Irma approached the Leeward islands, about 40 miles north of Antigua.

Last Tuesday, wind gusts around 50mph were recorded in Antigua and Barbuda, but have gained significant strength as the centre of the storm swirled several dozen miles off its shores. The authorities cut off the power on the mentioned islands just before midnight, forcing residents to tune in to the latest forecasts on radios in the darkness.

On Tuesday, residents throughout the Caribbean began rushing out of flood zones, stocking up on the last available water and food supplies and preparing for what is now considered to be a category 5 hurricane. In Antigua, residents spent the night in just under 4o shelters prior to the storm due to concerns that their homes may be destroyed by the winds, despite being boarded up.

“We have to prepare for an event that we have never experienced here,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico said at a news conference earlier on Tuesday.

Hurricane Irma is threatening widespread destruction across Puerto Rico, a United States territory of 3.4 million people, the nearby island of Hispaniola (home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti), Antigua, St. Kitts and Nevis, and the United States Virgin Islands, among others, including Cuba.

President Trump declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico, Florida and the United States Virgin Islands on Tuesday.

Harvey’s destruction is still fresh, prompting residents of Florida into action. Gov. Rick Scott has activated the state National Guard to aid with preparations and has declared a state of emergency.

The Florida Keys, an especially vulnerable chain of islands, moved quickly to prepare for the crushing wind and its expected tidal inundation. Schools will be closed and mandatory evacuations will begin, according to county officials. The three hospitals in Florida Keys began evacuating patients on Tuesday.

In spite of this, it is the northern Leeward islands and Puerto Rico that are expected to face the brunt of Irma’s winds first.

Puerto Rican officials have warned that the island’s fragile electrical grid could be shut down for days, weeks or even months in some areas. In his news conference, Rosselló and emergency officials warned that with such powerful winds expected to hit the island, infrastructure, houses and the phone system will inevitably be damaged.

On Tuesday, anxiety began mounting as the queues for food, water and supplies grew longer and longer. A hardware store in San Juan had been almost sold out of supplies by mid-afternoon.

“This has been like this for the last three days,” said Juan Carlos Ramirez, the store manager. “We’ve sold all of the most necessary items — flashlight, batteries, plywood.”

A customer, Maria Ruiz commented on Hurricanes Hugo and George, both of which had devastating effects on Puerto Rico. “Destruction,” she said. “That is what we can expect based on past experiences, and it’s already a Category 5.”

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