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Countries, former presidents help places devastated by Hurricane Irma, Harvey

Qatar is donating $30 million to help people in Texas recover from Harvey while five former US presidents joined forces to raise funds for the victims.

world Updated: Sep 08, 2017 08:58 IST
A man holds on to a branch while walking in the surf as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata.
A man holds on to a branch while walking in the surf as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata.(Reuters)

French, British and Dutch military authorities rushed aid to a devastated string of Caribbean islands on Thursday after Hurricane Irma left at least 14 people dead and thousands homeless as it spun towards 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.

Hundreds of miles to the west, Florida braced for the onslaught, with forecasters warning that Irma could slam headlong into the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people, punish the entire length of the state’s Atlantic coast and move into Georgia and South Carolina.

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More than a half-million people in Miami-Dade County were ordered to leave as Irma closed in with winds of 175 mph (281 kph).

“Take it seriously, because this is the real deal,” said Major Jeremy DeHart, a US Air Force Reserve weather officer who flew through the eye of Irma at 10,000 feet.

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 Caicos 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.

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, where homes were splintered and road signs scattered by the fierce winds.

The cafes and clothing shops of the picturesque seaside village of Marigot were submerged in brown floodwaters and people surveyed the wreckage from whatever shelter they could find. The toll could rise because rescue teams had yet to get a complete look at the damage.

Authorities described the damage as catastrophic and said crews were struggling to reopen roads and restore power. Irma also slammed the French island of St Barts, tearing off roofs and knocking out electricity in the high-end tourist destination.

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.”

People walk past debris as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua. (REUTERS)

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.”

In the US Virgin Islands, governor Kenneth Mapp said the US 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.”

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.

Farther out in the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose strengthened into a Category 3 storm with 120 mph (195 kph) winds and posed a potential threat for Saturday to some of the same islands ravaged by Irma.

Irma, the most potent Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded, appeared increasingly likely to rip into heavily populated South Florida on Sunday afternoon after threatening parts of the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas on Thursday night and Friday and sweeping along Cuba’s northern coast on Saturday.

Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami, said Irma could easily prove to be the costliest storm in US history.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said he would go to the islands as soon as the weather permits it. Saying he was “grief-stricken,” Macron called for concerted efforts to tackle global warming to prevent similar natural disasters.

Two Dutch navy ships were in St Martin with vital supplies. And two Dutch military aircraft were being sent the island of Curacao and on to St Martin to deliver food and water intended to last the population of 40,000 five days. The aircraft were carrying 100 extra troops to deliver aid, repair infrastructure and restore order.

Britain was sending hundreds of troops and the Royal Navy flagship HMS Ocean to Anguilla, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands.

On Barbuda, nearly every building was damaged when the hurricane’s core crossed almost directly over the island early Wednesday. About 60 percent of its roughly 1,400 residents were left homeless, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.

He said roads and telecommunications systems were wrecked and recovery will take months, if not years. “It is just really a horrendous situation,” Browne said.

Qatar giving $30 million to help Harvey victims

Qatar is donating $30 million to help people in Texas recover from Harvey, its ambassador said on Thursday, as the Persian Gulf nation works to show it’s a constructive global player amid a diplomatic crisis with its neighbours.

The contribution appears to be the largest from a foreign government to assist with the hurricane that devastated stretches of the Texas coast. It came the same day that the United Arab Emirates, one of Qatar’s opponents in the Persian Gulf dispute, announced its own $10 million to help Harvey victims.

Floodwaters surround houses in Richwood, Texas, on Thursday. Over a week after Hurricane Harvey hit Southern Texas, residents are beginning the long process of recovering from the storm. (AFP)

Harvey, which came ashore on Aug. 25 and became the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years, has killed more than 60 people, displaced more than 1 million others and damaged some 203,000 homes in a path of destruction stretching for more than 300 miles (480 km).

It has caused damaged estimated as high as $180 billion.

Five ex-US presidents join forces to support Harvey victims

Five former US presidents joined forces on Thursday to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Harvey, aiming to help rebuild some of the thousands of homes and businesses destroyed from Texas to Louisiana.

The presidents will launch “One America Appeal,” to start collecting funds with a plea broadcast during Thursday night’s National Football League season opener, the group said in a statement.

Former presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush, Bill Clinton, George HW Bush and Jimmy Carter are behind the effort.

Funds raised by the appeal will be distributed to the Houston Harvey Relief Fund, which focuses on the greater Houston region, and the Rebuild Texas Fund, which will assist communities across the state. Rebuild Texas had pledges of nearly $44 million on Thursday, according to its website.