In Irma’s Wake: “Apocalyptic” Destruction in Parts of the Caribbean and Florida Keys. Historic Flooding in Jacksonville and Charleston
By Peter A. Janssen
As Irma waned and moved into the Ohio Valley, the historic hurricane left a path of “apocalyptic” destruction in many parts of the Caribbean and the Florida Keys, while residents of Jacksonville, Florida, and Charleston, South Carolina, were still dealing with massive flooding in downtown areas. All told, the storm killed 56 people, including 13 in Florida, and officials warned that those numbers would probably increase.
In the Keys, officials said 25 percent of the homes were destroyed. The massive winds and storm surge tossed boats onto backyards, parks and roads, blocking U.S. 1 in points. Rescue workers made their way down the Keys, marking the doors of empty houses with the time and date they were checked for casualties. In Cudjoe Key, 110 miles below Miami, a disabled vet said, “There’s nothing left for us. We lost it all.”
The Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas escaped worst of the storm, but they still were hit with high winds and a storm surge. In Dinner Key, sailboats were tossed up into the nearby park, and a 110-foot yacht plowed into a dock and destroyed it. At least one boat sank at the entrance to the Venetian Causeway. Salt water ran down Biscayne Blvd., in the heart of downtown Miami. There was major flooding in the Everglades. Meanwhile, 5.6 million people had evacuated their homes in Florida, the largest evacuation in history.
Irma first made landfall on the tiny island of Barbuda, next to Antigua, where it destroyed 95 percent of the buildings. It then moved on to make direct hits on St. Martin, St. Bart’s and Anguilla. A local official said that 90 percent of St. Martin was destroyed, and a 131-foot Benetti sank as its dock there. In St. Martin, the storm was followed by looting, and people were fighting for food. (See our story, “All the Food Is Gone.”) A reporter said St. Bart’s was “a spectacle of devastation.” A constable in Anguilla said the island was a scene of “total devastation.”
The storm then moved up to the British Virgin Islands, causing widespread damage and flooding. One marina in Tortola that was considered a safe hurricane hole was destroyed after it filled up with charter boats. (See our story, “Irma Clobbers Tortola”). Irma also battered the U.S. Virgins. “It’s survival mode right now,” said one construction worker in St. Thomas who was left homeless with only the clothes on his back. (See the picture of devastated homes in St. Thomas, above.) About 80 percent of the buildings in St. John were extensively damaged, and U.S. military helicopters were dropping bottled water to survivors. People in the Virgin Islands told NBC News they feared they would be forgotten (see the story below). A nurse there said, “It’s apocalyptic destruction…There’s no power or water. Basically everything got demolished.”
Meanwhile, Jose was moving between the Bahamas and Bermuda, with 75-mph winds. It is not supposed to pose a direct threat to the U.S. mainland. Read more: