News Briefs Sept. 13, 2017

A satellite image of Hurricane Irma heading toward the Caribbean and Florida, where it caused great damage and resulted in dozens of deaths. Irma came on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which similarly devestated Texas. / Courtesy of U.S. Navy

Irma batters Florida, Caribbean

This past week Hurricane Irma, coming on the tails of Hurricane Harvey, hit and destroyed parts of the Caribbean and then moved up and into Florida.

At the time of publication, there have been 55 confirmed deaths attributed to Hurricane Irma in Florida and the affected areas of the Caribbean, and this number may increase. The Carribean islands affected include Cuba, St. Martin, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos and Puerto Rico. The small island of Barbuda suffered damage to 95 percent of its infrastructure, and the storm left 50 percent of residents homeless.

Thousands of people were evacuated from parts of the Caribbean before the storm touched down, including parts of Cuba and the Dominican Republic (BBC News, “Hurricane Irma: Caribbean islands left with trail of destruction,” 09.10.17).

By the morning of Sept. 10, 6.5 million people across Florida had been instructed to leave their homes in one of the largest storm evacuations in United States history. On Sept. 9, Florida Governor Rick Scott directed the evacuations, stating that “once the storm starts, law enforcement cannot save you” (The Washington Post, “‘Once the storm starts, law enforcement cannot save you’: Fla. governor issues stern warning ahead of Irma,” 09.09.17). The scope of the evacuation has extended up parts of the Georgia coastline, and states of emergency were declared in North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama (The New York Times, “Storm Gains Strength as It Nears Florida,” 09.10.17).

Hurricane Irma was originally classified as a Category 5 storm and was the first Category 5 hurricane to touch Cuba in almost 100 years. While later downgraded to a Category 3 storm, it was reclassified as Category 4 as it approached the Florida Keys. Hurricanes are classified based on sustained wind speeds: Category 3 hurricanes have wind speeds between 111 and 129 miles per hour, Category 4 hurricanes can have wind speeds up to 156 miles per hour and Category 5 storms are characterized by wind speeds above 156 miles per hour.

Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Keys on the morning of Sept. 10, shortly after 9 a.m. (CBS News, “Hurricane Irma makes landfall in lower Florida Keys,” 09.10.17). Earlier this week, all residents of the Keys were directed to evacuate. The storm caused at least eight deaths in the state and left over 6.5 million Floridians on the mainland without power.

Storm surges measuring up to 15 feet are expected in Florida, as well as up to two feet of rain. The surges are a result of fast wind speeds on shores that increase the water level and thus send large waves onto the coasts. These surges contribute to the destruction of homes as well as the increasing death tolls in Florida and the Caribbean.

As of the night of Sept. 11, the storm had been downgraded to a tropical depression and was moving from Florida up to Georgia. At this time, flash flood emergency warnings were issued in parts of South Carolina. While Irma caused surges and power outages throughout Florida, the overall damage and devastation throughout Florida was less than was originally predicted.

-Pazit Schrecker, Guest Reporter

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