Hurricane Irma: millions without power as clean-up starts in Caribbean, Florida

Millions of people remained without power supplies after Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean and Florida. As some locals feared lawlessness, British, French and Dutch diplomats headed to the Caribbean to rebuff criticism.

In the US, five million homes, organizations and businesses in Florida remained without power as night fell on Tuesday. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said that based on initial estimates, on the Florida Keys chain of islands at the southern tip of the state, 25 percent of houses had been destroyed and a further 65 percent had suffered major damage. Every home has been impacted in some way by the storm

Authorities have prevented people returning to their homes on the Keys to allow more time to restore services. Some 10,000 residents stayed in their homes when the storm hit and officials said they may need to be evacuated.

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Utility companies are focusing on restoring services to schools, hospitals and other infrastructure. There are hopes that power will be restored on the eastern side of Florida by the weekend.

Irma caused widespread destruction and power outages in the southern US, including here in Florida

Security concerns

The UK parliament was told Tuesday that a prison breach posed a threat to the hurricane-hit British Virgin Islands after a hundred inmates escaped.

"We had a serious threat of the complete breakdown of law and order in the British Virgin Islands (BVI)," Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan told parliament. He did not disclose how many prisoners were still at large. A night-time curfew has been imposed. 

British marines were deployed on Friday, with reinforcements over the weekend making a total of about 1,000 British troops in the region.

"We have maintained and kept law and order on the BVI, which at one point, could have dramatically threatened the already unfortunate plight of those who had been hit by the hurricane," Duncan added. 

The death toll in the British territories had climbed to nine, Duncan said, comprising five in the British Virgin Islands and four in Anguilla.

Irma is believed to have killed 43 people in the Carribbean and at least 13 in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Meteorologists are now monitoring Hurricane Jose which is still in the Atlantic, some 700 miles (1,130 km) west of Florida.

Hurricane Irma rips through Caribbean and US southeastern states

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.

Hurricane Irma rips through Caribbean and US southeastern states

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.

Hurricane Irma rips through Caribbean and US southeastern states

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.

Hurricane Irma rips through Caribbean and US southeastern states

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.

Hurricane Irma rips through Caribbean and US southeastern states

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.

Hurricane Irma rips through Caribbean and US southeastern states

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.

Hurricane Irma rips through Caribbean and US southeastern states

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.

Hurricane Irma rips through Caribbean and US southeastern states

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.

Hurricane Irma rips through Caribbean and US southeastern states

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.

European territories hit

Many of the Caribbean islands hardest hit by Irma are overseas territories of France, Britain and the Netherlands. The US Virgin Islands were also badly affected. As the countries sent troops to deliver aid and provide security, some locals and tourists who were left short of food and shelter said help was slow to arrive and raised concerns about looting and lawlessness.

"Even from the plane I saw something I have never seen before," Dutch King Willem-Alexander told public newscaster NOS. "I have seen proper war as well as natural disasters before, but I've never seen anything like this."

Read more: Hurricane season: Harvey followed by Irma, followed by José, then Katia

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron visited their countries' respective disaster-hit territories on Tuesday. Johnson refuted claims made by locals and tourists on the British territories that the UK had done less to evacuate its citizens than other nations, saying the government was responding to an "unprecedented catastrophe."

French President Emmanuel Macron's plane brought in emergency supplies and doctors to assess damage in the Caribbean

On the joint-French-Dutch island of St. Martin, Macron was also met by a number of angry, jeering locals, amid reports of violence and lawlessness on the island. Residents reported that local gangs armed with machetes had arrived on the French side of the island to take advantage of the devastation, leading to shortages in the supply of food and water.

The French president vowed to cut through red tape to quickly rebuild the French Caribbean islands, denying that authorities were too slow to react. He said 50 million euros ($59 million) would be made available as soon as possible. 

"St. Martin will be reborn, I promise," Macron said. "I will shake up all the rules and procedures so the job is done as quickly as possible. It will be done quickly, it will be done well and it will be done better."

Wrecked boats on Sint Maarten

se/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)