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On the 27th August, just off of the coast of Guinea-Bissau (Africa) winds picked up to 29 mph. This minor tropical disturbance was commonplace, especially when the gusts swept over Cape Verde; an island accustomed to late-summer hurricanes, albeit ones which cause little issue.
However, just like the Cape Verde storms of times gone past – such as Andrew, Huge and Ike – what began as strong gusts were soon to reach the Caribbean as Hurricane Irma. On the 5th September, Hurricane Irma was classified as a category 5 hurricane by the National Hurricane Centre. With winds reaching 295 km per hour, Irma is the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in history. The National Hurricane Centre put out warnings in the early stages of Irma of ‘potentially catastrophic’, little did they know what was to come.
In late August, Irma was nothing more than a group of clouds and slight winds off of the African west coast. Hurricane Irma was formed from a tropical depression or tropical wave that passed through the Cape Verde Islands which gave it the strength to form into a hurricane somewhere on its path across to the Atlantic towards Florida and the Caribbean.
Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist from Colorado State University commented: “Irma’s path was a bit unusual in that it tracked south of due west for several days. Typically, storms tend to track west-northwest across the Atlantic, he said. “The high pressure was just a little extra strong to keep it tracking south of due west.”
Hurricane Irma evolved into a monster as it snaked across the Atlantic. Fuelled by high air moisture levels, weak wind sheer, and a warm and deep ocean, the National Hurricane Centre put out a category 5 warning on the 5th September and warned people of the devastation about to come.
Wednesday the 6th September saw Hurricane Irma make its landfall, tearing through the north-east Caribbean island of Barbuda. The eye passed over the small island at 1:47 am. Gaston Brown, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda delivered the terrible news that 90% of buildings were destroyed and 1,400 people (60% of the population) have been left homeless.
Neighbouring Antigua was also affected; however, the damage was less severe as the island had been preparing for the prospective arrival of Hurricane Jose.
Hurricane Irma then moved in a north-westerly curve, hitting Anguilla full force. Tragically, one person has lost their life due to Irma in Anguilla and hospitals, schools, nursing homes, police stations and citizen’s homes have all been damaged and destroyed.
St Kitts and Nevis, to the south of Anguilla, was spared the full force of Irma. However, residents do face significant damage to property and power failures are currently the norm. The St Kitts and Nevis airport is said to be reopening on Thursday the 8th of September.
French St Martin was next to be devoured by Irma. The north of the island (with the Dutch St Maarten in the south) is considered to be the most destroyed Caribbean island thus far. Described by locals as ‘apocalyptic’, the hurricane threw trees, cars and buildings around like rag dolls in both the north and the south. St Maarten’s international airport has been destroyed and severe flooding and destruction is left now that the hurricane has moved on.
The path of Irma continued, wreaking havoc on the British Virgin Islands, with the chaos also touch the US Virgin Islands too. Significant damage has been reported from the British Virgin Islands, with reports of buildings lying as nothing but rubble.
Irma is the most destructive hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928. That year, San Felipe killed more than 2,700 people across Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and Florida.
Irma has left citizens of the island without power and water, with hospitals desperately relying on generators to treat those who have somehow made it to medical facilities. Now that Irma has beaten Puerto Rico with winds and rain, the island is left to clear the carnage and deal with the flooding.
Hispaniola is likely to be touched by Hurricane Irma, however, the eye of the storm will pass directly over the Dominican Republic and Haiti. From this point, Turks and Caicos and the southern Bahamas are likely to be struck come Thursday evening.
Friday is set to see Irma hit Florida. Evacuations are already being carried out, with Miami Beach and Miami-Dade residents fleeing their homes. All hospitals in the Florida Keys will close at 7 am on Friday in preparation.
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