Hurricane Irma kills 14 in Caribbean, heads for Florida


A woman with a full cart walks past empty shelves in a Walmart store in advance of Hurricane Irma’s expected arrival in North Miami Beach, Fla., on Thursday.

Reuters PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos (Reuters) — The eye of Hurricane Irma grazed the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday shaking buildings after it smashed a string of Caribbean islands as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, killing 14 people on its way to Florida.

With winds of around 290 kph, the storm the size of France has ravaged small islands in the northeast Caribbean in recent days, including Barbuda, Saint Martin and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, ripping down trees and flattening homes and hospitals.

Winds dipped on Thursday to 282 kph as Irma soaked the northern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and brought hurricane-force wind to the Turks and Caicos Islands. It remained an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm, the highest designation by the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Irma was about 65 km south of Turks and Caicos and is expected to bring 20-foot (6-meter) storm surges to the Bahamas later Thursday, before moving to Cuba and plowing into southern Florida as a very powerful Category 4 on Sunday, with storm surges and flooding due to begin within the next 48 hours.

Across the Caribbean authorities rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of residents and tourists in the path of the storm. On islands in its wake, shocked locals tried to comprehend the extent of the devastation while preparing for another major hurricane, Jose, currently a Category 3 and due to hit the northeastern Caribbean on Saturday.

It was the first time the Turks and Caicos islands had experienced a Category 5 storm, said Virginia Clerveaux, director of Disaster Management and Emergencies.

“We are expecting inundation from both rainfall as well as storm surge. And we may not be able to come rescue them in a timely manner,” she said in comments broadcast on Facebook.

The few tourists who remained on the Turks and Caicos islands were in hotels, as were some locals.

A Reuters witness described the roof and walls of a well-built house shaking hard as the screaming storm rocked the island of Providenciales and caused a drop in pressure.

In Miami, hundreds lined up for bottled water and cars looped around city blocks to get gas on Thursday in panicked preparations. Gas shortages in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area worsened on Thursday, with sales up to five times the norm.

“To the people of Florida, we just want you to protect yourselves, be very very vigilant and careful,” said U.S. President Donald Trump, who owns the waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida as well as a property on the French side of Saint Martin, an island devastated by the storm.

A mandatory evacuation on Georgia’s Atlantic coast was due to begin on Saturday, Governor Nathan Deal said.

Florida N-plants to shut

Electricity generator Florida Power & Light said on Thursday it will shut its two nuclear power plants before Irma comes ashore as a very powerful hurricane.

FPL, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc, generates enough power for about 1.9 million homes at the Turkey Point and St. Lucie plants, which are both along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, about 6 meters above sea level.

“We will safely shut down these nuclear plants well in advance of hurricane-force winds, and we’ve finalized plans for that shutdown,” FPL spokesman Rob Gould told a news conference.

The company will adjust the plans as necessary, “depending upon the path of the storm,” Gould said. He would not comment on exactly when the plants would be taken down or how long.

The Energy Department said late on Thursday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects Turkey Point to close on Friday evening and St. Lucie to shut about 12 hours later, depending on the storm’s path.

Irma, a Category 5 hurricane at the top of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, is packing winds of up to 290 kph.

Present forecast models are showing it hitting the tip of Florida on Sunday morning and raking the whole state as it moves north over the peninsula the following couple of days, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

FPL says it has invested $3 billion to protect its electricity grid since 2005, when the last major hurricane damaged power facilities in Florida. But no grid is hurricane-proof, and if Irma stays on its path, many FPL customers will lose power, Gould said.Speech

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