The islands of Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas archipelago are bracing themselves for 180mph winds, torrential rain and potentially destructive storm-surge seas on Thursday and Friday. Both have ordered evacuation of the most vulnerable islands.
Many of the islands are only a few feet above sea level. The risk has been increased in recent decades by rising sea levels brought about by climate change.
Unusually, Hurricane Irma seems to have lost none of its power as it has torn up the eastern Caribbean islands heading for the Florida Keys and Miami, where people in low-lying areas have been told to leave their homes and head for high ground.
One person has been declared dead in Anguilla, but Montserrat seems to have suffered somewhat less damage than was initially feared.
In French Saint-Martin the hurricane left four people dead and 50 injured, said France’s Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe. Local authorities said that 95% of the territory’s houses had been damaged and nearly two-thirds were uninhabitable. A state of emergency will be declared tomorrow (Friday).
The French PM was quoted by Reuters as saying, “There is no electricity, no drinkable water; gasoline is unavailable.” Daniel Gibbs, president of St Martin’s territorial council, declared: “Ninety-five percent of the island is destroyed.” He told Radio Caraïbes International: “There are shipwrecks everywhere, destroyed houses everywhere, torn off roofs everywhere. It’s just unbelievable, it’s indescribable.”
The Dutch side of the same island, known as Sint Maarten, has also been devastated, with massive damage to buildings and boats in the harbour. One person is reported to have died.
A remarkable story has emerged from Anguilla, where CBC’s As it Happens programme reported that a 19-year-old kept broadcasting even as the hurricane rocked Radio Anguilla’s studio. When the station’s systems were knocked out, Nisha Dupuis kept her fellow islanders informed via her personal Twitter account. It was only some hours later that she learned her own family members were safe.
The full story, and a clip from Nisha’s broadcast, can be found at www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens