Irma looms as the mythical ‘Big One’ Florida has long feared CURT ANDERSON,Associated Press 4 hours ago 2:321:151:382:483:457:36Analysis: Irma’s Cone of Uncertainty Massive FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — They call it the Big One — a mythic, massive hurricane that would obliterate the densely populated southeast coast. And it has long been the stuff of Florida’s nightmares.Irma, it appears, could be it. The storm has triggered near-panic in a region of more than 6 million people that includes Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, clustered along a narrow ribbon of coastline that has seen nearly double-digit population growth over the past five years.Isabella Janse Van Vuuren just arrived — she left her home in South Africa two weeks ago to start a job as a stewardess on a yacht, which she and other crew members spent time securing. As Irma approached, she was trying to decide whether to stay or go.”I’m terrified,” she said. „I’m not used to this. I just want to go into a cave and hide, basically. This is not a nice feeling.”But for veterans of life in the Sunshine State, hurricanes are as Floridian as oranges and Mickey Mouse. And every hurricane season brings with it the chance of cataclysm.In 1928, a hurricane caused Lake Okeechobee to burst its banks, unleashing a 20-foot (6-meter) wall of water that killed an estimated 2,500 people. The event was a key part of Zora Neale Hurston’s classic 1937 novel, „Their Eyes Were Watching God.””All gods who receive homage are cruel,” she wrote. „All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshipped. Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion.”Another famed storm, the killer 1935 Labor Day hurricane that swept across the Florida Keys, is central to the plot of the 1948 movie „Key Largo,” which starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.Irma could be the strongest hurricane to ever hit southern Florida. Andrew hit in August 1992 and caused widespread damage south of Miami. It caused the deaths of at least 40 people in Miami-Dade County alone, according to the National Hurricane Center, with 65 deaths blamed total including those in Louisiana and the Bahamas.”It was very scary. We just had no idea how bad it was going to be,” said Rosi Ramirez, who went through Andrew as a child in Homestead.She’s leaving Florida for South Carolina with her three children. „I don’t want my kids to go through that traumatic experience. I hadn’t thought about Andrew in a while. But now I am seeing some flashes of what we went through. It is all coming back.”Floridians have not been directly hit by a major hurricane since Wilma in 2005, but if they needed any reminder of what might await them, they saw the catastrophic flooding and damage caused by the storm Harvey in Houston. Jenna Wulf, a native Floridian who is six months pregnant, said seeing the damage caused by Harvey made her family more cautious; she stocked up on water Saturday and the hurricane shutters are going up on her home in suburban Plantation.”I think it’s such devastation that you’d be silly not to go through the motions,” she said. „I’m nervous because I’m pregnant and because I have a baby already. I’m trying not to watch (the news) because I think it’s causing more panic.”Andrew is often considered the worst storm in South Florida’s history. But in terms of fatalities, it didn’t come close to the „Great Miami Hurricane” of September, 1926, which killed 372 people when it came ashore directly over the city, carrying with it a 10-foot (3-meter) storm surge. Many died after apparently thinking the worst was over when the storm’s relatively calm eye passed over Miami, only to be caught without shelter in the second part of the hurricane, according to a National Weather Service history.”Residents of the city, unfamiliar with hurricanes, thought the storm was over and emerged from their places of refuge out into the city streets. People even began returning to the mainland from Miami Beach. The lull lasted only about 35 minutes,” the history says.”The intensity of the storm and the wreckage it left cannot adequately be described,” it says.The hurricane brought a halt, at least temporarily, to a growth boom which saw Miami’s population more than double to more than 100,000 in just six years. Today’s population of Miami-Dade County is about 2.7 million.Craig Pittman, an environmental reporter at the Tampa Bay Times and the author of the bestselling book ‘Oh, Florida,’ said the mythic Big One is just that — a myth. Hurricanes are just a fact of life in a state that is hit by the big storms more often than any other state. And even if the Big One were to strike, he doubts that it would deter people from living in — or visiting — what many consider paradise.”We’re the state that’s constantly trying to kill us,” he said. „We’re the state with sinkholes, shark bites, alligators and lightning. And we get hit by hurricanes. Yet people keep flooding here day after day.”People like Austin Spitler, a former Miami Dolphins player who moved from Ohio nine years ago. He said he never considered a potential storm as a reason to leave.”It never crossed my mind, to be honest with you,” Spitler said. „It was the lure of the sun and the sand. The beautiful weather far outweighs any of the hurricanes that come through.”But he added: „I hope I’m not eating my words.”_Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami and Tamara Lush in Tampa contributed to this story._Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt__HURRICANE NEWSLETTER — Get the best of the AP’s all-formats reporting on Irma and Harvey in your inbox: http://apne.ws/ahYQGtb
Powerful Hurricane Irma cut a swath of deadly destruction as it roared through the Caribbean, claiming at least nine lives and turning the tropical islands of St. Martin and Barbuda into mountains of rubble.
One of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, the rare Category 5 hurricane churned westward off the northern coast of Puerto Rico early Thursday on a potential collision course with South Florida, where at-risk areas were evacuated.
St. Martin — a pristine resort island divided between France and the Netherlands and known for its vibrant nightlife — suffered the full fury of the storm, with rescuers on the French side saying eight people had died and another 21 were injured. (AFP)
Hurricane Irma ‘pummeling’ Turks and Caicos with powerful winds MARK OSBORNE, MORGAN WINSOR and JULIA JACOBO,Good Morning America 1 hour 45 minutes ago Video Not Available Unfortunately, this video is not available in your region.SS-100-202Hurricane Irma is currently „pummeling” Turks and Caicos with powerful winds, according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest advisory.The record Category 5 storm, which skirted north of the Dominican Republic early Thursday as the powerful Category 5 storm, has set its sights on south Florida after leaving a trail of death and destruction in the Caribbean. At least 13 people have been killed.Irma, dubbed the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade, had maximum sustained winds of 175 mph on Thursday afternoon as it moved further away from the northern coast of Puerto Rico and over the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The wind speeds had dropped slightly from the day before, by about 10 mph.”Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a powerful Category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days,” the National Hurricane Center said in its advisory.As of 8 p.m. ET, Irma was about 55 miles west-southwest of Grand Turk Island, the capital of Turks and Caicos, moving at 16 mph as it raced toward the tiny tropical archipelago southeast of the Bahamas, where the storm is expected to hit Thursday night. Much of Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas could get 8 to 12 inches of rain, with up to 20 inches in isolated spots through Saturday. A storm surge could bring water levels up to 20 feet above ground in Turks and Caicos.A storm surge could also reach 5 feet on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic where Irma swept by on its way to Turks and Caicos.Millions of children in Haiti and the Dominican Republic are at risk, according to Save the Children organization.“Deadly storms have a bias against children. Storms often leave a lasting impact on young minds. Relief efforts should prioritize children – their needs, their emotional well-being,” Unni Krishnan, director of Save the Children’s emergency health unit, said in a statement Thursday.The National Hurricane Center projects Irma will be near the central Bahamas by Friday and then make landfall in south Florida, near Miami, on Sunday morning as a Category 4 hurricane, bringing high winds, abundant rainfall and potentially dangerous storm surge.The latest track has the storm shifted slightly to the west, which puts the worse side of the storm over the east coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean.Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who declared a statewide emergency earlier this week, has warned that the „massive storm” could be more treacherous than Hurricane Andrew, which devastated the Sunshine State 25 years ago.”I want everybody to understand the importance of this. This is bigger than Andrew,” Scott said Wednesday in an interview from Tallahassee with ABC News’ „Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts. „This could be worse.”At a press conference Thursday, Scott said Irma could bring „life threatening” damage to Florida and he urged residents on the state’s east and west coast to be prepared to evacuate and to heed warnings from local officials, saying a storm surge could bring water levels up to 10 feet above ground.”This could impact any part of our state,” Scott told reporters. „We’ll be doing evacuations, but everybody’s got to listen.”Scott said he expects additional evacuation orders will be given once the storm gets closer.Mandatory evacuations have already been ordered for parts of several Florida counties, including Brevard County, Broward County, Indian River County, Lee County, Martin County, Monroe County, Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach County, St. John’s County. Most of the mandatory evacuation zones were issued for barrier islands, coastal areas and for those living in mobile homes.As of Thursday afternoon, about 650,000 people had been asked to evacuate Miami-Dade County alone, the southeastern-most county on the U.S. mainland with more than 2.7 million residents.An estimated 1.2 Floridians statewide have been asked to evacuate.Meanwhile, Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio on Thursday declared a state of emergency for the town and ordered a mandatory evacuation for the entire island, where President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort is located.ABC News estimates a total of around 1 million Floridians have been asked to evacuate. Voluntary evacuations have also been issued for certain regions.Hurricane and storm surge watches were in effect for portions of south Florida and the Florida Keys on Thursday afternoon, according to the National Hurricane Center.Irma leaves 13 dead in the CaribbeanThe islands of St. Martin and Barbuda were especially hard hit in the storm on Wednesday, and officials there are continuing to assess the damage.Irma delivered massive destruction to St. Martin, and at least eight people were killed and 21 more injured on the small island, according to French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb.Although the airport was not destroyed, it is also not functional and support will have to be delivered via helicopter, Collomb said. He noted that 100,000 military emergency rations will be sent to the population.One person — a toddler — was killed in Barbuda. The toddler drowned as the child’s mother tried to move to safer ground on Wednesday, according to Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne.Barbuda suffered near-total destruction, with 90 percent of its structures destroyed, according to the prime minister, who described Irma like a „bomb” that shot „missiles” of debris across the island.”When you have an unprecedented storm like this that comes with such significant wind force, this is like having a bomb literally thrown on a city,” Browne told ABC News in a telephone interview Thursday. “It is really the sheer magnitude of the winds that destroyed these properties.”Barbuda recorded the strongest winds of any island in the path of Irma, with 155 mph gusts measured Wednesday morning. The prime minister on Thursday called for voluntary evacuations of Barbuda’s 2,000 inhabitants to Antigua, which fared better than its sister island during Irma, as a second hurricane, Jose, is strengthening and appears to be taking aim at the Caribbean.One person also died in Anguilla where Irma caused „moderate to severe damage” to „critical infrastructure,” including the hospital, airport, fire station, police station, government buildings, public utilities and roads, according to the Department of Disaster Management in the British territory.The U.S. Virgin Islands experienced a peak wind gust of 131 mph on Buck Island north of St. Croix on Wednesday.Although Puerto Rico largely avoided the worst of Irma, with the highest wind gust on the Caribbean island measured at 70 mph, at least three people died there as a result of the storm’s impact, according to the governor’s office. A 79-old woman died at the hospital after she fell while being transported to a shelter, another woman died of electrocution and a man died in the hospital after getting in a car accident while driving in poor weather conditions.Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said at a press conference Thursday morning that 6,200 people had hunkered down at shelters while Irma dropped 2 to 8 inches of rain across the island and up to 12 inches of rain in some isolated spots. One million customers were without power and 17 percent of the U.S. territory doesn’t have access to safe water.Officials began assessing the extent of the damage Thursday, Rossello said.Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday launched crews to conduct search and rescue flights in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist anyone potentially in distress after Irma, while also conducting overflight and surface port assessments.“Our first priority is ensuring safety of lives and helping anyone in distress. Following that, reopening the ports is a top priority, but we have to make sure we also do it safely,” Capt. Eric King, commander of Sector San Juan and the incident commander, said in a statement. “Opening the port prematurely could create a situation for a greater risk or incident, which could ultimately result in an even longer port closure. We must ensure the port is clear of any obstructions and any significant damage to the port infrastructure from the storm that would prevent the flow of commercial commerce.”ABC News’ Benjamin Gittleson, Max Golembo, Joshua Hoyos, Aaron Katersky and Benjamin Stein contributed to this report.