Hurricane Irma lashes Cuba; Jose poses threat elsewhere
By DESMOND BOYLAN, Associated Press
CAIBARIEN, Cuba (AP) — Irma battered Cuba with deafening winds and relentless rain Saturday, while a second hurricane, Jose, threatened to lash already-reeling islands elsewhere in the Caribbean.
Cuban coastal cities were clobbered by high winds from Irma that upended trees, toppled utility poles and scattered debris across streets. Roads were blocked, and witnesses said a provincial museum near the eye of the storm was in ruins.
There were no immediate reports of casualties in Cuba in addition to the 22 dead left in Irma’s wake across the Caribbean, where the storm ravaged such lush resort islands as St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Anguilla.
Many of Irma’s victims fled their battered islands on ferries and fishing boats for fear Jose would destroy or drench anything Irma left untouched.
On the Dutch side of St. Martin, an island divided between French and Dutch control, an estimated 70 percent of the homes were destroyed by Irma, according to the Dutch government. Officials said Jose was forecast to dump more rain on the island’s buildings, many of which lost their roofs to Irma.
Some islands received a last-minute reprieve from Jose as it passed by.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center downgraded a hurricane warning for Barbuda and Anguilla. A hurricane watch also was discontinued for nearby Antigua.
As of midday Saturday, Irma was 65 miles (100 kilometers) east of Varadero, on Cuba’s northern coast, with winds of 125 mph (205 kmh). Jose was 95 miles (155 kilometers) northeast of the Leeward Islands, with winds of 145 mph (230 kmh).
As Irma rolled in, Cuban soldiers went through coastal towns to force people to evacuate, taking people to shelters at government buildings and schools — and even caves.
Video images from northern and eastern Cuba showed uprooted utility poles and signs, many downed trees and extensive damage to roofs.
Eastern Cuba, home to the island’s poor, rural population and a major sugarcane-growing area, faces a difficult recovery, with its economy in tatters even before the storm because of years of neglect and lack of investment.
Civil Defense official Gergorio Torres said authorities were trying to tally the extent of the damage, which appeared concentrated in banana-growing areas.
Looting was reported on St. Martin. Curfews were imposed there and on St. Barts, and French and Dutch authorities announced plans to send hundreds more troops and police to keep order.
It was not immediately known whether U.S. President Donald Trump’s luxury property on St. Martin had been damaged.
On Anguilla, Vanessa Croft Thompson crammed into her home’s laundry room with her husband, her best friend and their children along with their cats and dogs, as Irma’s floodwaters swamped her house. The storm peeled off her roof, rained water inside, and sheared paint from her walls.
“Our hurricane-proof door was bending in, it was warping … and the entire house was shaking like it was an earthquake,” she said.
Thompson, the head of the English department at Anguilla’s only high school, said: “I don’t even know something that’s not destroyed. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been ripped apart by Irma.”
Associated Press writers Michael Weissenstein in Havana, Ben Fox in Miami, Ian Brown in St. Thomas, U.S Virgin Islands; Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Seth Borenstein in Washington; and Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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