Death toll from Hurricane Irma climbs in Caribbean as Jose approaches

In this Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, photo, damage is left after Hurricane Irma hit Barbuda. Hurricane Irma battered the Turks and Caicos Islands early Friday as the fearsome Category 5 storm continued a rampage through the Caribbean that has killed a number of people, with Florida in its sights.
In this Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, photo, damage is left after Hurricane Irma hit Barbuda. Hurricane Irma battered the Turks and Caicos Islands early Friday as the fearsome Category 5 storm continued a rampage through the Caribbean that has killed a number of people, with Florida in its sights. AP

First, the Caribbean islands were pummeled by Hurricane Irma, which killed at least 22 people, according to an Associated Press report, and destroyed thousands of homes.

Now, the islands could get hit again — this time by Hurricane Jose, a powerful Category 4 storm that was about 330 miles away from the Northern Leeward Islands on Friday evening.

A hurricane warning is in effect for Barbuda, Anguilla, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, all islands that have already been badly hit by Irma.

U.S. authorities were unable to reach St. Martin on Friday as Hurricane Jose approached and instead are relying on the Netherlands and France to assist U.S. citizens, the State Department said. Family members of a Canadian couple, Michael Moriarty and Meryl Zavitz, were frantically reaching out to officials to evacuate their loved ones from the island after they lost contact with them on Thursday. In their last message, Moriarty’s sister Monique Balmforth said, the couple reported their resort was without power or water and was rationing food.

“They don’t know how or when they’re going to get out,” she said.

Other islands rushed to evacuate residents. By 4 p.m. on Friday, Barbuda had evacuated all of its residents to neighboring Antigua.

Meanwhile, the islands tried to take stock of the damage that had already occurred.

At least four people were killed and 50 injured on the French side of St. Martin, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said Thursday, and more casualties could be reported in the coming days as officials inspect French Caribbean territories.

At least one person was killed on the Dutch side of St. Martin, where Prime Minister Mark Rutte told the BBC that more soldiers and police would be deployed to stop looting.

There was also at least one death in Anguilla, and a 2-year-old boy perished in Barbuda, where the prime minister said nearly all of the homes on the island had been damaged, leaving about 60 percent of residents homeless, the AP reported.

The death toll continued to climb in the U.S. Virgin Islands, with at least four people reported dead by Friday morning. Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett described widespread “devastation”. St. Thomas and St. John were completely without power and St. Thomas no longer had a working 911 system, Plaskett said Thursday afternoon.

Although the U.S. Virgin Islands were prepared for a hurricane, with buildings built to withstand serious storms, Plaskett said the islands’ infrastructure proved no match for Irma’s powerful winds. “There wasn’t much that could be done,” she said.

The hurricane passed by Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Thursday before churning on toward the Turks and Caicos, striking the islands early Friday.

Irma downed power lines and ripped off roofs in Grand Turk, the capital of the British overseas territory. There was still no communication out of Grand Turk, South Caicos and Salt Cay Friday afternoon after the eye of the hurricane passed over those areas. Providenciales International Airport in the Caicos Islands suffered major flooding.

The damage was still being assessed, but there were no reported deaths, Premier Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson told the Miami Herald. She said officials were trying to get critical services running and attend to people who might have been displaced by the storm. Authorities were also working to reopen the airport. The islands’ disaster management office issued an all-clear for residents, but warned against going outside unnecessarily, telling people to be on the lookout for fallen power lines.

“We have survived Irma, for which we give thanks,” Cartwright-Robinson said.

In Haiti, flooding was reported in the country’s northwest region and a major national road connecting Cap-Haitien to Ouanaminthe was rendered impassable after a river washed over it, the country’s Office of Civil Protection reported. Homes were damaged, but there were no reports of deaths as of Friday morning.

Authorities in the Dominican Republic reported some power outages and fallen trees blocking roads, but by Friday afternoon the ports had resumed operations. Officials said the country’s hospitals had not been damaged by the storm. An old bridge connecting the Dominican Republic and Haiti collapsed when the Massacre River swelled, Diario Libre reported.

Puerto Rico struggled to restore power Friday morning, after 900,000 were left with no electricity when Irma passed overnight Wednesday. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló tweeted that power had been restored to a major medical center and two airports, including Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport near the capital city, San Juan.

The eye of Hurricane Irma is expected to continue moving near the north coast of Cuba and the central Bahamas on Friday and Saturday. The Cuban government moved tens of thousands of people away from the northern coastline on Friday.

The U.S. Navy sent ships to the Virgin Islands, and French, British and Dutch rescuers also sent rescuers to their territories. U.S. Transportation Command is providing a C-17 Globemaster aircraft and the USS WASP is providing two MH-60 helicopters to assist with the relocation of hospital patients from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Venezuela sent a military plane carrying emergency relief supplies and rescue workers to Antigua, according to the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.

This story was supplemented with information from The Associated Press.