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Hurricane Irma weakens as it makes landfall in Florida, leaves four million without power

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Almost four million homes and residences in Florida have lost power as Hurricane Irma moves up the state's west coast.

Hurricane Irma has knocked out power to nearly four million homes and businesses in Florida, threatening millions more as it creeps up the state's west coast.

Irma hit Florida on Sunday morning as a dangerous Category 4 storm, the second highest level on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, but by afternoon as it barrelled up the west coast, it weakened to a Category 2 with maximum sustained winds of 177 kph.

The US National Hurricane Centre says it is forecast to weaken into a tropical storm over northern Florida or southern Georgia.

So far, the brunt of the storm has affected Florida Power & Light's customers in the states' southern and eastern sections, and its own operations were not immune, either.

"We are not subject to any special treatment from Hurricane Irma. We just experienced a power outage at our command centre. We do have backup generation," FPL spokesman Rob Gould said.

FPL, the biggest power company in Florida, said more than 3.2 million of its customers were without power , mostly in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

More than 200,000 had electricity restored, mostly by automated devices.

The company's system will need to be rebuilt, particularly in the western part of the state, Gould said. "That restoration process will be measured in weeks, not days."

Large utilities that serve other parts of the state were seeing their outage figures grow as the storm pushed north.

FPL said on Friday that its two nuclear plants were safe.

Economic cost of Harvey, Irma could be $290 bn: forecaster

The combined economic cost of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could reach $290 billion, equivalent to 1.5 percent of the US gross domestic product, US forecaster AccuWeather said in a report Sunday.

"We believe the damage estimate from Irma to be about $100 billion, among the costliest hurricanes of all time," said the firm's CEO and founder Joel Myers.

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Miami streets empty as Hurricane Irma hits
Miami streets empty as Hurricane Irma hits

Harvey, which battered Texas and parts of Louisiana in late August, will be "the costliest weather disaster in US history at $190 billion or one full percentage point of GDP" which stands at $19 trillion.

The report said it arrived at the figure by calculating disruptions to business, increased unemployment rates for significant periods of time, damage to transport and infrastructure, crop loss including a 25 percent drop of orange crop, increased costs of fuels including gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel, household damages and loss of valuable documentation.

Only a fraction of the losses would be covered by insurance, said Myers.

Irma struck the Florida Keys archipelago earlier Sunday and is now bearing north, bearing down on the city of Tampa on the west coast of the Florida peninsula.

Harvey made landfall in Texas in late August, causing severe damage to property and paralyzing the country's fourth-largest city, Houston, with major flooding.

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Last minute warnings as Irma hits
Last minute warnings as Irma hits

Trump approves emergency federal aid

US President Donald Trump approved Florida's request for emergency federal aid to help with the recovery from destructive Hurricane Irma.

The federal funding includes "grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster," the White House said.

The announcement comes after the President called Hurricane Irma "some big monster" as it batters the Florida coast, saying he wants to go to the state very soon and praising emergency officials for their efforts to protect people.

"The bad news is that this is some big monster," Trump told reporters at the White House, saying damage from the storm would be very costly.

"Right now, we are worried about lives, not cost," Trump said after returning from Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland where he monitored the storm and met with his Cabinet.

The path of the storm, tracking the west coast of Florida, meant it might be less destructive than it would otherwise have been, Trump said, noting the next five or six hours would be critical.

"I hope there aren't too many people in the path," he said. "You don't want to be in that path."

Trump said the US Coast Guard had been heroic and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was doing a good job to help coordinate the response with states. He added, however: "I think the hard part is now beginning."

Trump has offered the full resources of the federal government to Florida and the affected states, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters during a visit to FEMA's Washington headquarters on Sunday.

"Wherever Hurricane Irma goes, we'll be there first," Pence said. "We'll be there with resources and support, both to save lives and to help to recover and rebuild these states and these communities."

On Sunday, Trump also issued a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico, and expanded federal funds available to the US Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Irma, the White House said.

Trump owns a resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where he has often travelled during his presidency, as well as three golf courses in the state.

"We're going to Florida very soon," Trump said.

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump answers questions on Hurricane Irma, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump.
AAP

Miami buildings sway, streets flooded

The storm winds downed at least one construction crane and shook tall buildings in Miami, which was about 100 miles (160 km) from Irma’s core.

Deme Lomas, who owns Miami restaurant Niu Kitchen, said he saw a crane torn apart by winds and dangling from the top of a building.

“We feel the building swaying all the time,” Lomas said in a phone interview from his 35th-floor apartment. “It’s like being on a ship.”

Waves poured over a Miami seawall, flooding streets waist-deep in places around Brickell Avenue which runs a couple of blocks from the waterfront through the financial district and past consulates. High rise apartment buildings were left standing like islands in the flood.

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Havana neighbourhoods underwater in Irma's wake
Havana neighbourhoods underwater in Irma's wake

One woman in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood delivered her own baby because emergency responders were not able to reach her, the city of Miami said on Twitter. The two are now at the hospital, it said.

On Marco Island, right in Irma’s path just south of Naples, 67-year-old Kathleen Turner and her husband were riding out the storm on the second floor of a friend’s condominium after failing to find a flight out. She feared for her canal-facing home.

“I‘m feeling better than being in my house, but I‘m worried about my home, about what’s going to happen,” Turner said.

Irma comes just days after Hurricane Harvey dumped record-setting rain in Texas, causing unprecedented flooding, killing at least 60 people and an estimated $180 billion in property damage. Almost three months remain in the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through November.

US President Donald Trump spoke to the governors of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee on Sunday and issued a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico, which was hit by the storm last week, the White House said.

St Martin, St Barts contemplate rebuilding in Irma's wake

People on the islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barts on Sunday contemplated the task of rebuilding their lives after Hurricane Irma destroyed homes and roads and knocked out power and water.

The monster storm ripped through the two islands, leaving most of the 80,000 inhabitants homeless and causing crippling shortages of essentials.

"Is there still a life here?" wondered Michelene Jean-Charles, a heavily pregnant 23-year-old resident of St Martin, which is divided between France and the Netherlands.

Some 70 percent of the infrastructure on the Dutch side, which is known as Sint Maarten, has been destroyed, officials say.

Four people are now known to have died on Sint Maarten, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Sunday, raising the death toll there from two.

France said 10 people died on its side of the island.

But he added there had been "no new damage" caused by Hurricane Jose, which skirted the islands far to the north late Saturday.

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Crane atop Miami building collapses
Crane atop Miami building collapses

The new deaths reported on Sint Maarten bring Irma's confirmed death toll in the Caribbean to 27.

Three people were killed Sunday in Florida in a road accident reportedly caused by the inclement weather as Irma struck the US state.

French President Emmanuel Macron will leave for St Martin late Monday to meet victims and confer with local officials, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said.

"He will be there on Tuesday morning," Collomb said after meeting Macron at the Elysee presidential palace.

Opposition figures have accused Macron's fledgling government of bungling the response to the disaster, with radical left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon calling for a parliamentary inquiry.

Both France and the Netherlands are rushing in logistical support, as well as hundreds of extra police to tackle looting.

According to several unconfirmed reports, one or more boats from St Martin were intercepted trying to dock near luxury stores on St Barts, apparently with looting them in mind. 

French aid includes helicopters, engineering equipment, medical supplies and a million litres (250,000 gallons) of water, as the three water-treatment plants will be knocked out for months.

The French energy group EDF said it would send 140 tonnes of electrical equipment including generators and pumps from nearby Guadeloupe as soon as conditions permit.

An emergency radio station began broadcasting practical information, news and music on St Martin, while St Barts' transmitter remained out of order. 

As for the Dutch side, the Dutch Red Cross described it as a "race against time to get the relief to the affected area."

"Water pipes do not work, the stores are empty and there is no electricity in much of (Sint Maarten)," a spokesman told the Dutch news agency ANP.

The military were to evacuate Dutch tourists to Curacao, another Dutch island off of Venezuela, using two Hercules C-130 transporter planes, and the navy said it would begin large-scale distribution of food and water on Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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