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SHAKE AND BLOW
Monster Hurricane Irma batters Caribbean islands
By Laurent Czerniejewski with CÚcile Azzaro in Paris
Marigot (AFP) Sept 6, 2017


Storm Katia builds in Caribbean as Irma strikes
Miami (AFP) Sept 6, 2017 - As powerful Hurricane Irma tears across the Caribbean towards Florida, a new tropical storm formed in the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday and is threatening to become a hurricane, US weather monitors said.

Tropical Storm Katia was located off the Mexican coast some 135 miles (215 kilometers) east-southeast of the port of Tampico, the US National Hurricane Center reported.

The storm has maximum sustained winds of 45 miles (75 kilometers) an hour, and is inching towards the east-southeast at a speed of five miles (seven kilometers) per hour, the NHC said in its 1500 GMT bulletin.

"Strengthening is forecast and Katia could become a hurricane before it approaches the (Mexican) coast of Veracruz in a couple of days," the NHC said.

Katia is expected to drop up to 10 inches of rain in the Mexican coastal state of Veracruz, and lesser amounts on the states of Tamaulipas and Puebla through Saturday, though "isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches are possible," the NHC warned.

"This rainfall may cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, especially in areas of mountainous terrain," the Miami-based NHC said.

The Caribbean region was hunkering down as monster Hurricane Irma slammed into Barbuda as a rare Category Five storm early Wednesday, packing ferocious winds and causing major flooding in low-lying areas.

Next up is Tropical Storm Jose, which is currently in the Atlantic some 1,135 miles (1,825 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles and roaring towards the Caribbean.

Jose is expected to reach hurricane strength later in the day, the NHC said.

The trio of storms closely follow the deadly onslaught by Hurricane Harvey, which drenched the US Gulf Coast with historic rainfall and triggered widespread flooding.

Irma has 'caused major damage' on Caribbean islands: French minister
Paris (AFP) Sept 6, 2017 - Hurricane Irma has already caused "major damage" on several Caribbean islands, French Overseas Territories Minister Annick Girardin said on Wednesday.

The Category Five hurricane has "blown the roofs" off of buildings, caused flooding and cut communications between Paris and the French-run islands of Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin, she said after a cabinet meeting in Paris.

Irma slammed into the islands after first making landfall on the island of Barbuda to the southeast, with the French weather office saying: "These islands are suffering major impacts."

The hurricane has caused major flooding in low-lying areas, and coastlines are being "battered extremely violently" by the sea, it said.

As Irma approached the French-run Saint Barthelemy, a favourite jet-setters' destination also known as St. Barts, the office measured winds of 244 kilometres per hour (151 mph).

But its monitoring equipment has since been destroyed by the hurricane, it said.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb also said that government buildings on the island of Saint Martin -- the most sturdy built there -- had been destroyed.

"We know that the four most solid buildings on the island have been destroyed which means that more rustic structures have probably been completely or partially destroyed," he told reporters.

The French government had previously sounded the alarm over thousands of people who had refused to seek shelter on St. Barts as well as Saint Martin, an island divided between France and the Netherlands.

The population on the French side of the island of Saint Martin is around 40,000, with around the same number estimated to live on the Dutch-administered side.

A total of around 9,000 people live on Saint Barthelemy.

Monster Hurricane Irma slammed into Caribbean islands on Wednesday after making landfall in Barbuda, packing ferocious winds and causing major flooding in low-lying areas.

As the rare Category Five storm barreled its way across the Caribbean, it brought gusting winds of up to 185 miles per hour (294 kilometers per hour), weather experts said.

After making landfall just before 0600 GMT in Barbuda, part of the twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, the hurricane swept on to French-run Saint Barthelemy, also known as St Barts, and Saint Martin, an island divided between France and the Netherlands.

Hurricane Irma has already caused "major damage" on several Caribbean islands, said French Overseas Territories Minister Annick Girardin, who announced she was leaving for the island of Guadeloupe on Wednesday.

The French weather office said Irma was "a historic hurricane (with) an unprecedented intensity over the Atlantic," with a French minister saying it had already "caused major damage" across St Barts and Saint Martin.

- 'Very scary' -

Coastal areas were being "battered extremely violently" by the sea, with the weather office logging winds of 244 kph (151 mph) before its monitoring equipment was destroyed by the hurricane.

With the islands on maximum alert ahead of the arrival of the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, France had raised the alarm over the fate of some 7,000 people who refused to seek shelter.

Dutch national broadcaster NOS also reported "enormous damage" on Saint Martin, with residents speaking of widespread destruction.

Saba Island and St Eustatius, two other Dutch-run territories to the south, were also hit.

- 'I'm just praying' -

The massive hurricane, which is beating a path northwest, was also expected to hit the larger French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

With forecasters warning of catastrophe, including surges of up to 25 feet (7.6 metres) above normal tide levels, people evacuated tourist areas, stocked up on provisions, and packed into shelters across an area stretching as far north as Florida.

Irma, which is expected to stay in the region for days, follows hot on the heels of Hurricane Harvey which devastated swathes of Texas in late August.

Packed into shelters, many frightened residents were calling in to local radio stations to voice their concerns.

"I am just praying to God. Everything happens for a reason," said a woman called Kazia living on Antigua, where people were hunkering down in the dark after officials turned off the island's power supply as a safety precaution.

In mid-afternoon winds speeds there were logged at up to 90 mph.

- Shelters packed -

Category Five is the highest on the scale for hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean, and Irma is expected to reach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by nightfall Wednesday.

Hurricanes of this category are rare. They can tear off roofing, shatter windows, uproot palm trees and turn them into deadly projectiles.

In Guadeloupe, schools and government offices in have been closed while hospitals stocked up on medicines, food and drinking water.

Across the island, shelters were packed with a mixture of local families and tourists.

"We came here to protect our little two-year-old boy," said Ludovic, a tourist who only gave his first name. "We hadn't prepared for this disaster scenario."

Florida is expecting to face the brunt of the storm from Friday night.

As the hurricane approached, US President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, authorising federal funding to help local authorities respond.

"My team, which has done, and is doing, such a good job in Texas, is already in Florida. No rest for the weary!" he tweeted.

The Washington Post reported that Trump's luxury property on Saint Martin had been badly hit, without giving details.

Meanwhile British billionaire Richard Branson said he would be hunkering down in his concrete wine cellar to face Hurricane Irma as it hurtles closer to his private island of Necker in the British Virgin Islands.

- Threat to Puerto Rico, Florida -

Florida Governor Rick Scott said Irma, which comes barely a week after Harvey claimed at least 42 lives, posed "a severe threat to the entire state".

Tourists in the popular Key West islands were packing their bags on a mandatory evacuation order and were to begin leaving at sunrise on Wednesday, with a similar order for residents due to follow.

"We're emphatically telling people you must evacuate, you cannot afford to stay on an island with a Category 5 hurricane coming at you," said Monroe County emergency operations centre director Martin Senterfitt.

There were long queues as people rushed to get batteries, bottled water, groceries and fuel, while many cut trees around their homes and sought to tie down objects.

In a crowded supermarket in Miami Beach where people were scrambling to buy provisions, it was difficult to find basic supplies like water.

"People go crazy and buy up everything," 81-year-old resident Gladys Bosque told AFP.

"There's no water, no milk, there are very few cans -- and no cat food."

Florida Governor Rick Scott activated a 1,000 Guard members and the remaining 6,000 National Guard members will be reporting for duty no later than Friday morning.

In Puerto Rico, Governor Ricardo Rossello activated the National Guard and opened storm shelters sufficient to house up to 62,000 people.

A US aircraft carrier with a field hospital and dozens of aircraft able to conduct rescue or supply missions have been put on standby, US emergency authorities said.

SHAKE AND BLOW
Death toll in Mexico from Tropical Storm Lidia rises to 7
La Paz, Mexico (AFP) Sept 2, 2017
The death toll from Tropical Storm Lidia that swept across Mexico's Baja California peninsula has risen to seven, officials said Saturday. Five of the deaths occurred at the resort town of Cabo San Lucas, the local government said. Erasmo Palemon, attorney general for the state of Baja California Sur said that while the deaths were tragic, "it is sometimes the responsibility of the citiz ... read more

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