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Irma pummels Bahamas and Cuba on its track toward Florida


Hurricane Irma menaced Cuba and the Bahamas on Friday as it drove toward Florida after lashing the Caribbean with devastatingly high winds, killing 21 people and leaving catastrophic destruction in its wake, APA reports quoting Reuters.

 

As Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, bore down on Florida, Governor Rick Scott issued a stark warning for residents to get out if they were in evacuation zones.

 

“We are running out of time. If you are in an evacuation zone, you need to go now. This is a catastrophic storm like our state has never seen,” Scott told reporters, adding the storm’s effects would be felt from coast to coast.

 

U.S. President Donald Trump said in a videotaped statement that Irma was “a storm of absolutely historic destructive potential,” and called on people to heed recommendations from government officials and law enforcement.

 

Irma was about 270 miles (435 km) east of Caibarien on Cuba’s central-north coast, and 405 miles (655 km) southeast of Miami, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an advisory at 11 a.m EDT (1500 GMT) on Friday. Hurricane conditions were spreading westward over parts of Cuba and the central Bahamas.

 

The storm pummeled the Turks and Caicos Islands after saturating the northern edges of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

 

The “extremely dangerous” storm was downgraded from a rare Category 5, the top of the scale of hurricane intensity, to a Category 4 early Friday but it was still carrying winds as strong as 150 miles per hour (240 km per hour), the NHC said.

 

Irma was forecast to bring dangerous storm surges of up to 20 feet (6 meters) to the southeastern and central Bahamas, and up to 10 feet (3 meters) on parts of Cuba’s northern coast.

 

The storm was predicted to slam southern Florida on Sunday.

 

Cuba, where the Communist government has traditionally made rigorous preparations when the island is threatened by storms, was at a near standstill as Irma began to drive up the northern coast from east to west offshore.

 

Schools and most businesses were closed, hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated, and train, bus and domestic air services around the island were canceled. Airports were closing to international flights as conditions warranted.

 

Irma was forecast to move closer to land as it approached the center of Cuba later in the day and on Saturday, when it could seriously damage resorts on vulnerable keys. Tourists, and even the dolphins that entertain them, were evacuated. The storm was then predicted to veer north, sparing western Cuba and Havana.

 

In the Cuban fishing town of Caibarien, residents secured their roofs and moved belongings from low-lying coastal areas to houses higher up inland as the skies clouded over. Most said they were worried but well prepared.

 

Esteban Reyes, 65, was pushing his bicycle taxi laden with a mattress, iron and DVD player. “We are used to storms but I‘m still a bit scared. But the government has taught us to be prepared and help one another,” he said.

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