Hurricane Irma strikes Caribbean nations

Hurricane Irma: Caribbean weathers storm as Florida prepares for worst

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The record-breaking storm has plowed through the French Caribbean, killing several people and leaving destruction in its wake. From France to the US, officials have warned that the Category 5 storm may be disastrous.

A series of islands in the Caribbean were left in ruins on Wednesday after being lashed by one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century.

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The Category 5 Hurricane Irma killed at least 10 people on four different islands, with the dual-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda being hit especially hard.

"It is just total devastation, Barbuda now is literally rubble," Prime Minister Gaston Browne said in the aftermath of the storm, which had sustained wind speeds of 185 miles (300 kilometers) an hour.

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Strongest-ever Atlantic storm

Hurricane Irma has killed dozens of people and injured many more since the record-breaking storm roared over the French Caribbean islands. With its powerful winds having topped 185 miles (295 kilometers) per hour, Irma is the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, according to the US National Hurricane Center based in Miami.


Saint Martin: Death and destruction

The Franco-Dutch island of Saint Martin suffered the full fury of the storm. Rescuers on the French side said at least eight people died and some 95 percent of homes were destroyed. The Netherlands and France both sent troops and medics to help with rescue efforts.


Barbuda: 'Total carnage'

Prime Minister Gaston Browne said Barbuda was a "scene of total carnage." Officials on the tiny two-island nation said it will seek international assistance. He further reported that about half of Barbuda's 1,800 population were homeless while nine out of 10 buildings had suffered damage, many of them destroyed.


Puerto Rico: Without power, homes

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said about two-thirds of the island's 3.4 million inhabitants lost electricity in the storm. Shelters have been set up for about 62,000 people whose homes were destroyed.


Cuba: Devastation, once again

Irma crawled across Cuba's northern coast, bearing down on the island nation as a Category 5 hurricane. It left thousands of homes, businesses and hotels flooded. The hurricane's storm surge topped Malecon, the iconic seaside boulevard in the capital of Havana. Cuba is often hit by hurricanes that strike the Caribbean.


Florida: Catastrophic winds

Irma made US landfall in Key West, then again on Marcos Island on the US state of Florida's Gulf Coast. The storm brought several tornadoes, which leveled homes in the eastern city of Palm Bay. In Miami, hurricane-force winds brought down two cranes. State authorities have vowed a swift response to aid victims of the hurricane and cleanup its devastation.


Georgia and South Carolina: Irma downgraded to tropical depression

Although Georgia and South Carolina avoided the worst of Irma's destructive path, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency after 340,000 were left without electricity and four people died. Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, one the world's busiest airports, was forced to cancel some 800 flights on Monday.


Wildlife: Another victim

The destructive storm also left other victims in its wake, namely marine wildlife. The hurricane caused water levels to rise and fall much quicker than normal, leaving some animals, like this manatee, behind to die on land.


Irregular hurricane season

Irma follows hot on the heels of Hurricane Harvey which devastated large swathes of Texas and Louisiana in late August. Before Irma made landfall in the US, two other storms, Jose in the Atlantic Ocean and Katia in the Gulf of Mexico, were upgraded to hurricane status. Weather forecasters believe Jose could still pose a threat to the continental US.

Ninety-five percent of properties in Barbuda were damaged, with up to 30 percent demolished, Browne told CNN. The damage has left roughly 60 percent of the island's roughly 1,400 people homeless.

At least one person, a 2-year-old child, died on Barbuda, with another casualty reported on Anguilla.

Nearby St. Martin suffered similar destruction, with officials reporting at least eight people dead. The island is currently "unreachable," because of the devastation dealt to the airport and the harbor, said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

"It's an enormous catastrophe. Ninety-five percent of the island is destroyed. I'm in shock. It's frightening," top local official Daniel Gibbs told Radio Caribbean International.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) shared images of the storm as they passed overhead.

Social media users shared images of the storm and its aftermath from the various Caribbean islands it hit.

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French officials said they feared the worst for France's Caribbean territories.

"We have a lot to fear for a certain number of our compatriots who unfortunately didn't want to listen to the protection measures and go to more secure sites … We're preparing for the worst," said Annick Girardin, France's minister for overseas territories.

France said it sent emergency food and water rations to its territories in the Caribbean ahead of the hurricane's arrival, and will provide support in the wake of the storm.

Two more hurricanes brewing

Infografik Karte Hurricane Irma ENG

As Irma roared past Puerto Rico on Wednesday, authorities were predicting it would reach Florida on Saturday or Sunday as a Category 4 storm. Florida, Georgia an declared a state of emergency ahe

More than 900,000 people in the US territory were left without power early on Thursday morning, while another 50,000 were without water, according to the island's emergency management agency. 

The US National Weather Service said that Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma's magnitude since 1928.

Read more: Hurricane Harvey: Is climate change to blame?

"The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we've ever seen," said Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello. "A lot of infrastructure won't be able to withstand this kind of force."

Meanwhile, two other hurricanes were nearing North America on Thursday: Katia in the Gulf of Mexico and Hurricane Jose in the open Atlantic. Mexican authorities have issued a warning over Katia in the state of Veracruz, with Irma ripping through the Caribbean and Jose also threatening the tropical islands that appear to lay on his path. On Thursday, however, the French weather service said it will likely bypass land.

'Could be not good, believe me, not good'

In the US, Florida residents braced for the storm after the state's governor, Rick Scott, declared a statewide emergency, warning of the severity of the storm.

"The storm is bigger, faster and stronger than Hurricane Andrew," said Scott, referring to a storm that devastated the state in 1992 and was the costliest to make landfall in the US until Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

US President Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, saying Irma "looks like it could be something that could be not good, believe me, not good." US states of Georgia and North and South Carolina also declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.

Irma could become the second major hurricane to make landfall in the US in less than two weeks. Hurricane Harvey struck Texas last week, killing more than 60 people and displacing roughly 1 million.

Three names - one phenomenon

Hurricane, typhoon, and cyclone are actually three names for the same phenomenon. Along the North American coast they are called hurricanes, in East and Southeast Asia they are called typhoons, and near India and Australia they are called cyclones. But despite the different names, they develop in the same way.

A cyclone is created

Tropical storms develop over oceans when the water temperature is at least 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit). As the warm water evaporates and condenses, the air around it heats up and drags cooler air upwards, creating powerful winds.

The eye of the storm

The Earth's rotation causes the air stream to move around the eye of the storm, which can be up to 50 kilometers wide. This area is nearly completely free of clouds and wind.

A storm hits land

When a tropical storm hits a coastline, it becomes weaker due to the lack of warm water. In Australia, "Marcia" was soon downgraded to a category one storm, while "Lam" weakened after striking near Brisbane. Masses of water from the sea often cause the worst damage - as seen here in China after Typhoon Nanmadol in August 2011.

Chaos ensues

Hurricane Sandy was one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean. It caused waves of up to 4 meters high, fires, power outages and broken dykes. Sandy arrived with winds at speeds of more than 145 kilometers per hour. Cuba, New York and New Jersey were particularly affected.

Destructive vortex

Tornadoes however, are non-tropical whirlwinds that can occur anywhere a storm is brewing. Local temperature differences force warm air upwards and cold air down, and a column of warm air rotates upwards at an increasing velocity. Tornadoes are usually only a maximum of 1 kilometer in diameter.

Fastest storms

As the warm air rises, it forms a funnel, the main characteristic of a tornado. Inside the funnel, the speed of the air can be tremendous - up to 500 kilometers per hour. Tornadoes are the fastest whirlwind type of weather phenomenon.

Trail of destruction

A tornado can leave a trail of destruction several kilometers long. In the US Midwest, tornadoes occur several hundred times a year, as dry, cold air from the north hits damp, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico. It's different in other countries - in Germany, for example, tornadoes occasionally occur along the coast.

aw, ls/bw (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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