Stunning photos from Caribbean give sense of Hurricane Irma's destructive power
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — French, British and Dutch military authorities rushed aid to a devastated string of Caribbean islands Thursday after Hurricane Irma left at least 11 people dead and thousands homeless as it spun toward Florida for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend.
Warships and planes were dispatched with food, water and troops after the fearsome Category 5 storm smashed homes, schools and roads, laying waste to some of the world's most beautiful and exclusive tourist destinations.
The hurricane was still north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday evening, sweeping the neighboring nations on Hispaniola island with high winds and rain while battering the Turks and Caico islands on its other side.
Big waves smashed a dozen homes into rubble in the Dominican fishing community of Nagua, but work crews said all the residents had left before the storm. Officials said 11,200 people in all had evacuated vulnerable areas, while 55,000 soldiers had been deployed to help the cleanup.
In Haiti, two people were injured by a falling tree, a national roadway was blocked by debris and roofs were torn from houses along the northern coast but there were no immediate reports of deaths. Officials warned that could change as Irma continued to lash Haiti, where deforested hillsides are prone to devastating mudslides that have wiped out entire neighborhoods of precariously built homes in flood zones.
"We are vulnerable. We don't have any equipment to help the population," Josue Alusma, mayor of the northern city of Port de Paix, said on Radio Zenith FM.
About a million people were without power in Puerto Rico after Irma sideswiped the island overnight, and nearly half the territory's hospitals were relying on generators. No injuries were reported.
The first islands hit by the storm were scenes of terrible destruction.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said four people were confirmed dead and about 50 injured on the French side of St. Martin, an island split between Dutch and French control. The toll could rise because rescue teams had yet to get a complete look at the damage.
At least four people were killed in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and officials said they expected to find more bodies. Authorities described the damage as catastrophic and said crews were struggling to reopen roads and restore power.
Three more deaths were reported on the British island of Anguilla, independent Barbuda and the Dutch side of St. Martin.
Irma also slammed the French island of St. Barts, tearing off roofs and knocking out electricity.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said 100,000 food rations were sent to St. Barts and St. Martin, the equivalent of four days of supplies.
"It's a tragedy. We'll need to rebuild both islands," he said. "Most of the schools have been destroyed."
Photos and video of St. Martin circulating on social media showed major damage to the Philipsburg airport and heavy flooding in the coastal village of Marigot.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the storm "caused wide-scale destruction of infrastructure, houses and businesses."
"There is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Houses are under water, cars are floating through the streets, inhabitants are sitting in the dark in ruined houses and are cut off from the outside world," he said.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Gov. Kenneth Mapp said the U.S. military was sending troops to aid relief efforts.
The primary focus for now is "making sure people have meals, water and shelter," Mapp said. "An event of this magnitude is very chilling."
The territory's two islands were battered by 150 mph (241 kph) winds for four hours. Two fire stations, two fire police stations and the hospital on St. Thomas were destroyed. A curfew was ordered for St. John and St. Thomas that also covered about 5,000 tourists who were unable to leave before the storm.