‘It’s like someone with a lawn mower from the sky has gone over the island’ – Washington Post

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Apocalyptic scenes of flattened buildings and ruined airports emerged from once-lush Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma, as the deadly storm lashed vulnerable Haiti on Thursday and another powerful storm, Hurricane Jose, followed fast in its wake.

About 95 percent of the tiny islands of Barbuda and St. Martin sustained some damage or were outright destroyed, officials said. Ghastly photos and videos from St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, also known as St. Barts, showed buildings in ruin and cars and trucks almost submerged in the storm surge.

Irma’s death toll has reached 11, a figure expected to rise as its punishing winds hit Hispaniola and the Turks and Caicos islands, and moved closer to a potentially disastrous assault on Cuba, the Bahamas and Florida. To the east, those islands already ripped apart by Category 5-force winds have little time to regroup before more .

At 11 p.m. Thursday, the National Hurricane Center cautioned that Jose is expected to bring more damaging winds and rain to the Leeward Islands by Saturday. The storm, officials said, was maintaining its strength.

Hurricane warnings were issued for Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla and St. Martin.

“We are very worried about Hurricane Jose,” Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, told The Washington Post during a phone interview Thursday, adding that Irma had left about 60 percent of Barbuda’s nearly 2,000 residents homeless.

When Craig Ryan, a 29-year-old tourism entrepreneur who lives in Antigua, reached Barbuda by boat Thursday morning, residents lined the beach waiting for rescue. “It’s such a level of devastation,” he told The Post, “that you can’t even see structures standing.”

Ryan’s family business, Tropical Adventures Antigua, dispatched a 75-foot motorboat to make the 90-minute passage between islands to ferry people off Barbuda before Jose’s potential arrival. Some residents remain stuck in isolated areas blocked by impassable roads, he said by telephone as he loaded up water and other supplies at a dock in Antigua.

“We really are in a rush against time,” Ryan said.

On St. Martin, there was little sense that authorities had the situation under control. Witnesses said supermarkets were being looted, with no police visible in the streets.

“It’s like someone with a lawn mower from the sky has gone over the island,” Marilou Rohan, a European vacationer on the Dutch side of the island, which is split with France, told the Dutch NOS news service. “Houses are destroyed. Some are razed to the ground. I am lucky that I was in a sturdy house, but we had to bolster the door, the wind was so hard.”

Occasionally, soldiers have passed by, but they were doing little to impose order, Rohan said.

“People feel powerless. They do not know what to do. You see the fear in their eyes,” she said.

U.S. and European countries scrambled to send aid to the battered Caribbean islands.

The Pentagon deployed three Navy ships, nearly two dozen aircraft and hundreds of Marines to help with recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where they were needed to relocate hospital patients and others displaced by the storm, and haul in relief supplies.

One ship, the USS Wasp, was off St. Thomas on Thursday coordinating medical evacuations. Two others, the USS Kearsarge and the USS Oak Hill, were expected to be in position by Friday.

The military will provide generators, fuel and gas, water-purification systems and tools to clear roadways choked with storm debris, according to U.S. Northern Command. The Army Corps of Engineers sent teams to both U.S. territories to help restore electricity, and National Guard personnel were activated to help with evacuations and search-and-rescue efforts.

As of Thursday night, no other countries had asked for the U.S. military’s help, one official said, but Defense Department planners were preparing as though such requests may come.

“It’s safe to stay things may progress,” John Cornelio, a spokesman for Northern Command, told The Post. “I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but one of the things DOD can provide is capacity.”

French officials said St. Martin is without electricity, fuel and drinking water. About 800 rescuers arrived Thursday and more were on the way.

French Foreign Minister Gérard Collomb said that “even the strongest buildings are destroyed” on the French side of St. Martin, while French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said that four people had been found dead there and another 50 were injured.

In addition, four people were reported killed on the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to authorities there who described “catastrophic” damage, the Associated Press reported. There was at least one death reported on the British island of Anguilla, another on Barbuda and one on the Dutch part of St. Martin.

In Puerto Rico, residents expressed relief that the storm did not leave a trail of death. Still, Irma knocked out nearly half of the 1,600 cellphone towers on the financially strained island, leaving many residents without service, local media reported. More than 1 million people lost power. The island’s power authority had warned before the storm that damage could leave some neighborhoods without electricity for up to six months because of precarious infrastructure.

In the Dominican Republic, which shares Hispaniola with impoverished Haiti, the civil defense director, General Rafael A. Carrasco, said at least 2,721 homes have been damaged. The government said nearly 7,000 people had been evacuated from their homes, and 7,400 tourists had been moved from beachside hotels in Bavaro, Puerto Plata and Samana to the capital, Santo Domingo.

As night began to fall Thursday, the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean was punishing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere — Haiti, a nation still recovering from a massive 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew last October. That storm, bearing Category 4 force when it made landfall Oct. 4 along Haiti’s southwest coast, killed more than 500 people on the island and injured more than 400 others.

Although the nation of 11 million appeared to avoid a direct hit, authorities and aid groups warned that the storm’s glancing blow was already flooding highways and bridges, bringing mudslides and toppling rickety housing.

The government ordered schools closed and warned citizens to leave work by noon to prepare for the storm. Concern centered on the flood-prone north, where Irma’s torrential rain brought knee-deep water to the fishing and agricultural city of Fort Liberty. Mayor Louis Jacques Etienne said rising water had already drenched bedrooms and kitchens, and flooded fields of rice and plantains.

The ferocity of the storm, he said, sent many of the city’s 37,000 residents scrambling to get to last-minute shelters set up in a Catholic church, two schools and the public library.

The evacuation effort unfolding in Haiti, critics said, was happening far too late. But Etienne as well as national officials insisted that locals would not have heeded warnings until they saw the power of Irma firsthand.

“Look, they don’t believe you when you tell them there’s a hurricane coming,” Etienne said in a phone interview. “They need to see it for themselves.”

Jerry Chandler, director of Haiti’s National Protection Agency, said he was working with projections that as many as 600,000 people would be severely affected by the storm, with potentially 400,000 people facing the destruction of their homes.
“It’s a slow-moving hurricane, and as it moves toward us, I’m afraid it will slow even more,” Chandler said.

Even in the teeming capital of Port-au-Prince, officials warned that floods might come to some of the city’s low-lying slums. Gusty winds and rain began to kick up in the late afternoon. Earlier, some residents — though not many — stocked up on powdered milk and bread at grocery stores and markets.

But many, like fruit seller Nadeige Jean, 35, said she felt helpless to do anything but struggle on with her daily routine.

“I guess we are worried, but we are already living in another hurricane, Hurricane Misery,” said the mother of three, who was selling fruit at the Olympic Market. “So they say I should board up my house? With what? Wood? Who’s going to pay? With what money will I buy it? Ha! I don’t even have a tin roof. If the winds come, I can’t do anything but hope to live.”

In Haiti, Irma’s toll could be felt long after the wind and rain are gone. Infrastructure could collapse, and livestock herds and crops could be wiped out. In addition, aid workers fear the potential spread of a cholera outbreak that has already killed thousands.

U.N. agencies and humanitarian groups said they were in northern Haiti, poised to distribute medical and food aid to affected communities as soon as the storm allowed.

Marc Vincent, resident coordinator for the United Nations in Haiti, said one positive sign was that the storm appeared be tracking slightly farther north than anticipated.

“It’s true that this is the biggest storm to pass here on record, and we’re just hoping the impact will not be as severe as we fear,” he said.

Bever and deGrandpre reported from Washington. Joshua Partlow in Mexico City, Michael Birnbaum and Annabell Van den Berghe in Brussels, and Lindsay de Feliz in Moncion, Dominican Republic, contributed to this report.

Read more:

Everything you need to know about Hurricane Irma

Category 5 Irma stays on perilous path toward Florida; hurricane watch issued

Tropical triple threat: Hurricanes Jose and Katia could join Irma striking land this weekend

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