Hurricane Irma has left a path of destruction in the Caribbean, killing at least ten people and leaving nearly a million without power. As the eye of the storm moved between Hispaniola and the Turks and Caicos Thursday evening, battered islands started to take stock of the damage.
At least four people were killed and 50 injured on the French side of St. Martin, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said, and one person was killed on the Dutch side of the island, the Associated Press reported.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the hurricane passed Wednesday, battering St. Thomas and St. John with sustained winds of over 150 mph, Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett said Thursday afternoon that she believed some residents had been killed, but could not yet say definitively how many. As of Thursday evening, the AP had reported a preliminary death toll of at least three people.
Another person died in the British territory of Anguilla, which the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office said had received the hurricane’s “full blast,” according to the BBC.
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On the independent island of Barbuda, a 2-year-old child was killed. Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the AP that 60 percent of the country’s residents had been left homeless after most of the homes on the island suffered considerable damage.
Meanwhile, Plaskett described “devastation” on the U.S. Virgin Islands and reported that St. Thomas and St. John were without power Thursday afternoon. St. Thomas was also without a working 911 system and had only limited cellphone service, Plaskett said.
The U.S. Virgin Islands were prepared for a hurricane, with buildings built to withstand serious storms, Plaskett said. But faced with the unprecedented strength of Irma’s winds, “there wasn’t much that could be done.” Although the islands suffered some water damage, Plaskett said the wind was “the main cause of the devastation we’re seeing.”
Images of the island of St. John posted to social media show collapsed roofs, toppled trees and debris. On St. Croix, which was less impacted by the storm, Plaskett said there were some power outages and a lot of debris.
The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office said the British Virgin Islands, which were also battered by Irma on Wednesday, would need “extensive humanitarian assistance,” the BBC reported.
The death toll throughout the Caribbean will likely continue to climb. With rescue teams just beginning to inspect the devastated Caribbean islands on Thursday, there could be more victims.
Puerto Rico narrowly escaped the worst of Irma as the hurricane passed overnight Wednesday, staying about 50 miles offshore but hitting the island with heavy wind and rain. More than half the island was without power Thursday morning, however, leaving 900,000 with no electricity and close to 50,000 without water, the AP reported. Fourteen hospitals were using generators to maintain power.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Thursday that it was not yet clear when power would be restored. Puerto Rico’s public power company warned before the hurricane hit that some areas could be left without power for four to six months.
In Vieques, an island off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, roofs flew off houses during the storm, El Nuevo Día reported. Power lines were down and highways were blocked Thursday morning. Culebra, another island off the coast of Puerto Rico, appeared to have suffered similar damages, according to photos Rosselló posted on Twitter.
As Irma churned past the north coast of Hispaniola Thursday afternoon, Dominican authorities reported some power outages and fallen trees blocking roads, but said on Twitter that they were working to clear roads and restore power. Earlier in the day, the country’s Civil Defense said that some 2,700 people in flood-prone areas had been evacuated to emergency shelters and another 2,500 had taken shelter at the homes of family and friends.
Others may have chosen not to evacuate due to a lack of understanding about the storm’s risks and a fear of violence in shelters, said Camila Minerva Rodríguez, the field manager for international nonprofit Oxfam’s humanitarian action program in the Dominican Republic.
“Any time there is a shelter situation, there is an increase in violence toward women and children in shelters,” Minerva said, adding that Oxfam is working with Dominican authorities to ensure protection at shelters. Although Oxfam does not know how many people refused to evacuate from flood-prone areas, Minerva said in past emergencies it has been “an important factor.”
Oxfam is also concerned about an increase in vector-borne disease in flooded areas following the storm, as well as agricultural losses, Minerva said.
“It’s important to know that even if it isn’t a direct hit, there will be important losses” in the country, she said.
In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, rain was followed by strong winds Thursday afternoon. The Office of Civil Protection, Haiti’s disaster arm, reported that National Road #3, which links Cap-Haitien to Ouanaminthe, was impassable after a river flooded it.
Meanwhile, in the Turks and Caicos, Irma downed power lines and ripped off roofs in Grand Turk, the capital of the British overseas territory. In 2008, Grand Turk was hammered by Hurricane Ike and took years to rebuild.
The country’s disaster office ordered “a national shut down,” and told residents and tourists to remain indoors as the storm slammed the chain.
President Donald Trump approved emergency declarations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday, enabling the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts. The declarations also ensure federal funding for debris removal and other assistance.
Help was on the way Thursday for the most devastated Caribbean islands. Two U.S. Navy ships were heading to the U.S. Virgin Islands and expected to arrive Friday, Plaskett said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had already deployed a group to the islands. French, British and Dutch rescuers also rushed to aid the impacted Caribbean islands, the AP reported.
But there was also another hurricane — Hurricane Jose — moving toward the Caribbean. A hurricane watch was in effect for Antigua and Barbuda Thursday evening as Jose churned about 590 miles east of the Lesser Antilles.
And anxieties were running high in South Florida, where many have family in the Caribbean.
Miami prosecutor Frank Ledee, whose family owns a string of beachfront villas on Saint Barthelemy, said the storm wrecked 18-inch walls and blew out doors and windows.
“The damage is astronomical,” said Ledee, who has been communicating with family via U.S. cellphone text messages.
The devastation was even worse in St. Martin, where Ledee’s relatives live and own businesses. Their homes there were destroyed, as was a liquor-distribution warehouse.
“The roof of the building popped off and walls collapsed into the warehouse,” Ledee said. “We ended up with looters.”
His family survived unscathed, but badly shaken. “We took a very bad beating on the islands,” said Ledee, who lives in Broward County.
Irma will likely move between the north coast of Cuba and the Bahamas over the next day or two, the National Hurricane Center said. Portions of Cuba’s north coast are expected to see hurricane conditions. Then, the storm will continue it’s trek toward Florida.
After seeing the devastation wrought by Irma on the U.S. Virgin Islands, Plaskett urged South Florida residents to follow evacuation orders. “This is a tremendous hurricane,” she said.