Irma weakens at it heads north, but leaves path of destruction

IMAGE: CNS photo/Daytona Beach Police Department handout via Reuters

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MIAMI (CNS) — A weakened Hurricane Irma churned
in Florida after ripping through southern portions of the state and the Caribbean
islands, flooding cities, knocking out power to millions, destroying homes and
businesses and killing more than 20 people.

The massive hurricane, which dwindled to a
tropical storm as it neared the Florida-Georgia line early Sept. 11, was
forecast to die out over southern states later in the week. Officials in
Florida and across the Caribbean, meanwhile, started to dig out and evaluate
the full scope of the disaster Irma left behind.

The strength and size of the storm, with 120-plus
mph winds stretching 70 miles from its core, left hardly any place near its
path untouched. It leveled entire islands in the eastern Caribbean, snapped
construction cranes in downtown Miami, and brought unprecedented flooding on
Cuba’s north coast.

“The hurricane has caused serious
damage in the towns, villages and farms of the north coast of our island, from
Camaguey to Havana,” said Maritza Sanchez, director of Caritas Cuba. “Flooding
was caused by hurricane force winds and rains all the way from Camaguey to
Santa Clara in the middle of the country, reaching as far as Matanzas and
Havana along the northwest coast.”

By the evening on Sept. 10, roughly 5.7
million Florida residents were left without power. Aerial footage showed large
swaths of cities like Miami and Naples, on the Gulf Coast, under water. State
officials had ordered 6.3 million of the state’s approximately 21 million
residents to evacuate; many headed north to stay with relatives.

“Millions of Floridians are being
impacted by this storm,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said during a news conference
Sept. 10.

Earlier, the president of the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops called for prayers for all those in the path of
Hurricane Irma.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of
Galveston-Houston, whose diocese was hit by flooding from Hurricane Harvey,
noted that people in the Caribbean had “felt Hurricane Irma’s full force.”

“Let us join in prayer for those who
are in the path of Hurricane Irma, and may God bless and protect you,” he said
in a statement Sept. 9. “At a time like this, when our endurance is
tested, we implore God to direct us to yet unknown reserves of strength and
human compassion for those suffering so deeply. May our manifestations of love
and solidarity be lasting signs in the midst of this crisis.”

The cardinal noted that, as with Harvey, the
bishops’ conference would work with local dioceses, Catholic relief agencies
and other groups to offer assistance.

The storm had already left a path of
destruction in the Caribbean. Disaster risk analyst Center for Disaster
Management and Risk Reduction Technology, based in Germany, estimated more than
$10 billion in damages in the Caribbean, making it the costliest storm ever in
the region.

The Netherlands estimated that 70 percent of
the houses on St. Martin were badly damaged or destroyed. That left 40,000
people in public shelters as Hurricane Jose approached.

The Pentagon mobilized the military to
respond to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where at least four people died and
devastation was widespread.

“This is a horrific disaster,” Gov.
Kenneth Mapp said Sept. 9. “There will be no restorations or solutions in
days or weeks.”

In Antigua and Barbuda, Arthur Nibbs,
minister of Barbuda Affairs who was on Barbuda when Irma hit, said it was the
worst storm he’d ever seen.

“It was enormous. There’s nothing that
is comparable. It destroyed everything that was in its path,” he said.

Nibbs said roofs were torn away, trees were
toppled, government buildings were destroyed, and cell towers were snapped in
half, leaving the small island of about 1,600 people without any form of
communication.

Officials scrambled to evacuate the island
before the arrival of Hurricane Jose. The category 4 storm veered north of
Barbuda, sparing it from a second direct hit.

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