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Irma weakens but continues to batter Florida
By Leila Macor with Sebastien Blanc in Naples, Florida
Miami (AFP) Sept 11, 2017

A history of violence: hurricanes in the US
Washington (AFP) Sept 10, 2017 - Irma, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Caribbean, has made landfall in Florida, lashing the state with fearsome wind gusts and storm surges.

Below is a list of the largest storms to hit the United States in the last 25 years.

- 2017: Harvey -

Hurricane Harvey, a Category Four storm, reaches Texas on August 25, unleashing catastrophic rainfall that floods large areas and leads to the deaths of at least 33 people. Houston, America's fourth-largest city, bears the brunt of the flooding.

The estimated cost of the damage wrought by Harvey could eventually top $100 billion.

- 2012: Sandy -

Category Three Hurricane Sandy barrels into the eastern seaboard at the end of October 2012, causing at least 200 deaths in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

At least 40 people are killed in New York city alone in what is one of the costliest hurricanes ever witnessed in the US.

- 2011: Irene -

Irene strikes the eastern United States in late August 2011, killing 43 people across 11 states.

Vermont is among the worst affected, with Irene bringing rainfall leading to the most serious flooding there for 75 years.

- 2005: Katrina, Rita and Wilma -

Hurricane Katrina, the deadliest in US history, pounds the southern states of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana in August 2005, leading to the deaths of around 1,800 people and inflicting more than $150 billion worth of damage.

Around 80 percent of New Orleans is submerged as the city's flood defenses give way.

A month later, with millions still unable to return to their homes, Hurricane Rita hits the Gulf Coast, killing 10 people in Texas and Mississippi.

A further 24 people die during the evacuation of more than three million people from their homes.

And in October Wilma, the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded at the time in the Atlantic basin, kills 18 people in Florida and leaves millions more without power.

- 2004: Charley, Frances and Ivan -

Florida's coastline is ravaged by hurricanes Charley and Frances in August 2004, with more than 50 people killed and over $20 billion worth of damage.

A month later, Ivan batters the Caribbean and southeastern United States, killing at least 108 including 38 in the US.

- 2001: Allison -

Allison careers into Texas in June 2001 before passing over Louisiana, Florida and Pennsylvania, killing 35.

Record rainfall hits Houston, causing flood levels only surpassed by Harvey 16 years later.

- 1999: Floyd -

Hurricane Floyd overwhelms flood defenses on the East Coast, killing 61 people between North Carolina and New York in September 1999.

- 1996: Fran -

Fran pounds North Carolina and Virginia in September 1996 with 110 mile per hour (180 kilometer per hour) winds and torrential rain that leaves 22 dead.

- 1994: Alberto -

Flooding caused by Tropical Storm Alberto kills 31 people in Georgia and Alabama in July 1994, as well as forcing around 50,000 to flee to safety.

- 1992: Andrew -

Category Five Hurricane Andrew, the strongest storm to hit the US until Irma, barrels into Florida, Louisiana and the Bahamas, killing 65 people. Miami is particularly hard-hit, with damage costing at least $34 billion.

Hurricane Irma, which has toppled cranes, swallowed streets and left millions without power, weakened to a Category 1 storm Monday but remained dangerous as it continued its furious climb up Florida's southwest coast.

Warnings of hazardous storm surges remained in effect through vast swaths of peninsular Florida, where more than six million people had been ordered to flee Irma's path -- one of the biggest evacuations in US history.

"As little as six inches of moving water can knock you down," tweeted the state's governor Rick Scott following the downgrade.

"Stay inside. Stay safe," he added.

Maximum sustained winds had decreased to 85 miles per hour as of 2:00 am local time (0600 GMT), with Irma projected to become a tropical storm as it moved into northern Florida or southern Georgia later Monday.

After wreaking a trail of death and destruction through the Caribbean, Irma had killed three people when it struck the southern Florida Keys island chain as a more powerful Category Four on Sunday.

More than four million customers were without power throughout the state, according to Florida's Division of Emergency Management. Florida Power and Light said it had "safely shut down" one of two nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point power plant.

Handfuls of holdout residents, having defied calls to evacuate, hunkered down as Irma tore over the Keys, ripping boats from their moorings, flattening palm trees and downing power lines across the island chain popular for fishing and scuba diving.

Hours later, one of the mightiest hurricanes ever to slam the state made a second landfall on Marco Island near the beach resort of Naples.

"I am concerned about people that don't believe in the storm surge," said Virginia Defreeuw, 76, who fled her mobile home in Naples to a shelter. "You need to be afraid of the storm surge! People are not listening."

As Irma appeared to set its sights on the Tampa area -- home to three million residents, about half of whom live less than 10 feet above sea level -- some people were taken by surprise by Irma's northwest shift.

Facing Irma's wrath, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the city did everything it could to get people out of the coastal areas.

"I am sure there are still people that are still there, thinking that they can hunker down on this storm," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told a press briefing Sunday, before paraphrasing a famous boxer's words.

"I never thought I would be quoting Mike Tyson, but 'Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face,'" he said.

"Well, we are about to get punched in the face."

- 'Lives, not cost' -

While southwest Florida bore the deadly brunt of Irma's wrath Sunday, the coastlines of Miami and the neighboring island of Miami Beach were heavily inundated by storm surges as hurricane winds sent two giant construction cranes crashing down.

The sea swallowed the coastal walkway of glitzy Brickell Avenue in the center of Miami, flooding the streets and leaving cars half-submerged.

"The wooden pier is basically gone," said Steven Schlacknam, a 51-year-old visual artist watching from a 37th floor apartment.

President Donald Trump, who vowed to travel to Florida "very soon," approved the state's request for emergency federal aid to help with temporary housing, home repairs, emergency work and hazard mitigation.

"Right now, we're worried about lives, not cost," Trump said.

At least 30 deaths are already attributable to the storm. The US victims included a sheriff's deputy killed in a head-on collision early Sunday as she drove home for supplies after working in a shelter all night.

Irma smacked the Keys 57 years to the day after Hurricane Donna hit the same area in 1960, destroying nearly 75 percent of the island chain's buildings.

A shelter of last resort set up in the Middle Keys city of Marathon was reported to be without power or running water, and surrounded by surging waters.

Irma also led to some uniquely Floridian responses, with a sheriff forced to warn residents not to shoot at the storm after an online prank promoting the idea went viral.

"To clarify, DO NOT shoot weapons @ #Irma," the office of the sheriff of Pasco County, on the state's west coast, tweeted hours before landfall.

- Miami spared worst -

In Miami, where emergency services were sheltering in place, a dispatcher talked a woman through delivering her own baby on Sunday morning, Assistant Fire Chief Eloy Garcia told the Miami Herald.

Before reaching the United States, Irma smashed through a string of Caribbean islands from tiny Barbuda on Wednesday, to the tropical paradises of Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos.

Terrified Cubans who rode out Irma in coastal towns -- after it made landfall Friday on the Camaguey archipelago as a maximum-strength Category Five storm -- reported "deafening" winds, uprooted trees and power lines, and rooftops blown off.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in Cuba but it caused significant damage, and enormous waves lashed the Malecon, Havana's emblematic seafront, with seawaters penetrating deep into the capital.

Residents in the old colonial city were waist-deep in floodwaters after Irma cut power and forced the evacuation of more than a million people.

- Storm surge, tornado risk -

Irma is so wide that both coasts of Florida and the Keys faced destructive storm surges as the storm barreled north.

Businesses on both Florida coasts were shuttered while Miami airport was closed and not expected to reopen until Tuesday.

MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, the military installation home to US Central Command, issued mandatory evacuation orders ahead of the storm's passage early Monday, while the Kennedy Space Center on the east coast was also closed.

Hurricanes Irma and Jose: What we know
Paris (AFP) Sept 11, 2017 - Hurricane Irma pummelled Florida on Sunday, killing three people after causing at least 27 deaths in a multi-billion-dollar rampage through the Caribbean.

Irma churned over the lower Florida Keys islands as a Category Four hurricane before making a second landfall on the peninsula's southwestern coast.

Although Irma was downgraded to a Category Two storm, it was still packing dangerous winds of up to 105 miles (169 kilometers) per hour as it neared Fort Myers, a major tourist destination in southwestern Florida.

It was expected to remain a hurricane through at least Monday with a turn to the north-northwest overnight, according to the National Hurricane Center.

A second Category Four hurricane, Jose, followed part of Irma's track, but spared the storm-hit Caribbean islands of St Martin and St Barts, which had already suffered catastrophic damage from Irma.

Jose, veering north towards the mid-Atlantic, is expected to pose no threat to the United States.

- Toll from Irma -

The death toll is at least 30: 14 in the French island of St Barts and the Dutch-French territory of St Martin; six in the British Caribbean islands; at least four in the US Virgin Islands; at least two in Puerto Rico; and one in Barbuda. Three other deaths occurred in Florida due to car accidents sparked by strong winds and torrential rain.

The International Red Cross says 1.2 million people have already been affected by Irma -- a number that could rise to 26 million.

The combined economic cost of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could reach $290 billion, equivalent to 1.5 percent of the US gross domestic product, US forecaster AccuWeather said in a report.

- Barbuda -

Irma hit the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda on Wednesday as a Category Five hurricane, with winds of up to 295 kph. The island suffered "absolute devastation," with up to 30 percent of properties demolished, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.

One person is known to have died on the island of 1,600 residents, apparently a child whose family was trying to get to safer ground.

- St Martin, St Barts and Anguilla -

The holiday islands of St Martin and St Barts, also hit on Wednesday, suffered the highest toll among Caribbean victims of Irma.

St Martin is divided between France and the Netherlands. France said 10 people had died on its side of the island, while the Netherlands said the storm killed four on the Dutch side, called Sint Maarten. On the Dutch side, 70 percent of the infrastructure has been destroyed.

France's state-owned reinsurer CCR estimates damage on the two islands at 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion).

France and the Netherlands are rushing in logistical support, as well as hundreds of extra police to clamp down on looting.

French aid includes helicopters, engineering equipment, medical supplies and a million litres (265,000 gallons) of water, as the three water-treatment plants will be knocked out for months.

French President Emmanuel Macron will arrive in St Martin Tuesday.

In the British archipelago of Anguilla, one man was crushed to death in a house collapse.

- British Virgin Islands -

Five people were killed in the British Virgin Islands, according to the local government.

Just east of Puerto Rico, it is home to roughly 28,000 people and includes British billionaire Richard Branson's Necker Island.

- US Virgin Islands -

At least four people were killed in the US Virgin Islands, officials told AFP.

- Puerto Rico -

At least two people were killed in the US territory of Puerto Rico, and more than half of its three million residents were without power after rivers broke their banks in the centre and north of the island.

- Dominican Republic -

Some 20,000 people were evacuated and more than 2,000 homes affected by floods in the Dominican Republic, the eastern part of the island of Hispaniola, which is also shared with Haiti.

- Haiti -

Irma brought flooding and caused injuries in Haiti, but passed further north than had been forecast, sparing the impoverished island the worst. A number of roads were washed out.

- Cuba -

Irma made landfall on the island's Camaguey Archipelago late Friday, knocking down power lines, uprooting trees and ripping the roofs off homes.

Authorities said they had evacuated more than a million people as a precaution, including about 4,000 in the capital.

Ambulances and firefighters patrolled streets littered with hunks of roofs, power lines and tree branches brought down by strong winds that blasted over Cuba on Saturday.

- Irma: Where next? -

Irma toppled cranes, swallowed streets and left millions without power as it unleashed its terrifying fury on the US state of Florida, threatening the coastal cities of Naples and Fort Myers and Tampa Bay with storm surges of up to 15 feet (4.5 meters), according to the National Hurricane Center.

A total of 6.3 million people have been asked to leave their homes in Florida.

A state of emergency has been declared in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia, as well as in Florida. Georgia ordered the evacuation of the city of Savannah and other coastal areas.

President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would go to Florida "very soon" to assess relief efforts.

- Hurricanes Jose and Katia -

Hurricane Jose, after strengthening to Category Four status, passed 135 km (83 miles) north of St Barts and 125 km from Saint Martin.

France's meteorological agency issued its highest warning, saying Jose could become a "dangerous event of exceptional intensity."

But "thanks to a passage which was further away than anticipated, the effects on the territory were markedly less," the meteorological agency said.

Another hurricane, Katia, made landfall in eastern Mexico late Friday killing two people, just as the country grappled with the deaths and damage inflicted by its worst earthquake in a century.

Irma pummels Cuba as Florida hunkers for a hit
Miami (AFP) Sept 9, 2017
Hurricane Irma pummeled the north coast of Cuba Saturday, inflicting major damage as millions of people in the US state of Florida hunkered down for a direct hit from the monster storm. Irma's blast through the Cuban coastline weakened it to a Category Three, but it is still packing winds of 125 miles (200 kilometer) per hour. The eye of the storm is "beginning to move slowly away from t ... read more

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