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Irma steamrolls Caribbean islands, who fear yet another storm in its wake

Lionel Chamoiseau | AFP
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Florida Keys may see hurricane by Sunday morning.

Hurricane Irma shows no sign of abating as it regains its status as a Category 5 storm.

The monster hurricane made landfall in Cuba Friday night after coming back from its brief Category 4 status.

Slamming the low-lying Turks and Caicos island chain earlier on Friday, Irma headed into the channel between Cuba and the Bahamas. It might make landfall in the Florida Keys as early as Sunday at around 2am.

Steven Olive in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Irma killed four people and caused widespread damage to infrastructure including a major hospital, said in a terse email to Aleteia: “We are alive. The house made it. Major devastation thought out the island. Limited communication.”

The U.S. Northern Command began supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hurricane Irma response Thursday as the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp arrived in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Wasp‘s helicopters are conducting medical evacuations for critical care patients from St. Thomas to St. Croix and conducting damage assessment. The Wasp is providing medium and heavy lift helicopters to transport people and supplies.

Two other naval vessels, USS Kearsarge and USS Oak Hill, are also en route to the area. The ships are capable of providing medical support, maritime security, medium and heavy lift air support, and water purification. One of the ships will carry the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

While Haiti and the Dominican Republic were spared a direct hit as the storm passed north of Hispaniola, Catholic Relief Services, which had been prepared to send emergency aid there, is now turning its focus on the smaller Caribbean islands that have been almost completely leveled.

With total devastation in Barbuda, St. Martin and St. Barts, and with another dangerous storm on the heels of Hurricane Irma, CRS and our Caritas partners in St. Lucia and Granada are evaluating how to help with evacuations ahead of Hurricane Jose, a Category 4 storm expected to barrel across those same islands, CRS said in a statement.

“We’re working with our Caritas partners in the Dominican Republic to help the people who were impacted,” CRS technical advisor for emergency response Anna Hrybyk said. “We’re also very concerned for the people in the Lesser Antilles who were not nearly so lucky. They need help as they are evacuated and start to recover from this devastating hurricane.”

Irma did significant damage in the Dominican Republic but didn’t have the catastrophic impact feared earlier in the week, CRS said. The strong winds and rain damaged more than 2,200 homes and as many as 12,600 people are still in shelters or with family and friends.

On Haiti’s northern coast, 2,000 people were reported to be in shelters as of last night while major damage to infrastructure has been avoided, according to reports.

The hurricane was downgraded to Category 4 on Friday, but it has already broken records. It broke another one Friday. For the first time in 100 years, Catholics in Cuba canceled their annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Caridad del Cobre, patroness of Cuba. The pilgrimage, held each September 8, is a tradition of the people of Santiago, who have been venerating the image since its discovery.

Celebrations of Our Lady of Cobre were also postponed in south Florida, home to many Cuban-Americans. In addition, the Archdiocese of Miami dispensed all Catholics from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass this weekend. “Due to the emergency and for their safety, the faithful are dispensed from their obligation to attend Mass this weekend,” said a statement from the archdiocese.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned that Irma would be “way bigger than Andrew,” the 1992 hurricane that has so far been the most destructive storm the state has experienced.

To the east of Florida, in the Bahamas, offices were closed on Friday so families could prepare, in case Irma headed toward the archipelago.

“Last year we had Hurricane Matthew, which caused a lot of structural damage,” said Shaddia Smith, speaking from Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. “We haven’t fully gotten over that. Irma is following basically the same path. We’re taking a lot of precautions. It sounds like it’s died down a bit, but they have a tendency to strengthen and switch course.”

Indeed, that is what it did Friday night.

One precaution officials were taking was removing traffic lights, in case power lines are blown down, she said.

About 49 million people are directly in Hurricane Irma’s projected path, including more than 10.5 million children, according to the United Nations. The World Food Programme (WFP) said that an aircraft bound for Haiti and carrying some 80 metric tons of emergency food supplies and other equipment on behalf of WFP, CARE and Catholic Relief Services was due to leave the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Dubai Friday morning.

 

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