Hurricane Irma downgrades, but at least 17 dead as it ravages Caribbean

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CAP-HAÏTIEN, Haiti (AFP) — Hurricane Irma ripped through the Caribbean on Friday, leaving a trail of devastation and killing 17 as it barrelled towards the United States where up to a million people have been told to flee.

So far, 1.2 million people have been affected by Irma, the Red Cross said.

But that number looks set to rise — and could reach as high as 26 million, the agency said.

With the monster storm expected to reach the American south by the weekend, coastal areas of Florida and Georgia were battening down the hatches and carrying out their biggest evacuation since 2005.

“The entire southeastern United States better wake up and pay attention,” warned US federal emergency chief Brock Long. “It will be truly devastating.”

Roaring across the Caribbean, the rare Category Five hurricane laid waste to a series of tiny islands like St Martin, where 60 per cent of homes were wrecked, before slamming into the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

By Friday morning, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) had downgraded Irma to Category Four with maximum wind speeds of up to 155 miles per hour (250 kilometres per hour) while warning it was still extremely dangerous.

On many islands, violent winds have ripped roofs and facades off buildings, hurling lumps of concrete, cars and even shipping containers aside.

Irma battered the Turks and Caicos Islands early Friday and Cuba evacuated tourists from beachside resorts as the fearsome storm continued its rampage.

Waves as high as 20 feet (6 meters) were expected in the Turks and Caicos. Communications went down as the storm slammed into the islands, and the extent of the devastation was unclear.

Source: Jamaica Observer

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