Hurricane Irma is one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean. The hurricane was so powerful that seismometers, machines used to detect the strength of earthquakes, detected it.
Hurricane Irma struck the Caribbean and the east coast of the United States in September 2017. The hurricane developed on 30th August near the Cape Verde Islands. High ocean temperatures and extremely low pressures over the Atlantic fuelled the storm’s intensity. The hurricane first made landfall on 6th September along the northern coast of Barbuda with wind speeds of up to 282kph (175mph). It travelled north along the east coast of the Caribbean as a category five hurricane. The hurricane reached Florida on 10th September as a category four hurricane with sustained winds of 209kph (130mph).
Hurricane Irma – the path of destruction
Planning to manage the impact
Given that Irma’s forecast track was along much of the Caribbean island chain, hurricane warnings were issued for the northern Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, and parts of Hispaniola on September 5.
On September 4, Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency. By September 6, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency had deployed response teams in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. Supplies, including food rations, medical supplies, and blankets, were pre-staged in strategic locations on the islands for distribution.
In the Turks and Caicos, evacuation orders were issued for low-lying areas starting September 5. Schools were closed, government buildings were boarded up and shelters were opened.Officials spread warnings to residents in a range of languages via social media, radio, SMS text, and WhatsApp.
The Dominican Republic activated the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters, thus providing for humanitarian satellite coverage; the United States and Haiti followed suit two days later. According to officials, 11,200 people were evacuated from vulnerable areas prior to the storm’s arrival. 7,400 tourists were moved to Santo Domingo, away from beach resorts.
In The Bahamas, the government began preparations the week prior to the hurricane’s arrival, including securing national sports facilities to use as shelters. By September 7, the government had evacuated 1,609 people by air from the southern islands, including 365 from Bimini.
The US National Hurricane Centre issued several warnings for the Southeastern United States. The Civil Defense evacuated nearly one million people from low-lying areas in advance of the storm.
Officials advised residents to stock their hurricane kits. Road tolls were suspended in Florida to enable more people to evacuate. Public schools, state colleges, and state universities in all 67 counties in Florida were closed between the 8th and 11th September. Throughout the state, almost 700 emergency shelters were opened and were used by almost 200,000 people. Main airports were closed. An estimated 6.5 million Floridians were ordered to evacuate, mostly those living on barrier islands or in coastal areas; in mobile or sub-standard homes; and in low-lying or flood-prone areas.
Irma was the most intense hurricane to strike the east coast of the United States since Katrina in 2005. The hurricane resulted in 134 deaths and caused over $65 billion in damage. The northeastern Caribbean and Florida were worst hit. On the Caribbean island of Barbuda, 90% of all structures were damaged or destroyed. Hurricane Irma is the second-costliest Caribbean hurricane on record.
The island of Providenciales is a popular tourist destination and dozens of holidaymakers were caught on the island unable to leave before the hurricane hit.
People were forced to evacuate their cities to avoid Irma’s wake. People left their towns and homes to find safer places to ride out the storm. Some people stayed in shelters, while others went to visit family or friends out of the path of the hurricane.
On Sint Maarten, 95% of the houses there had been damaged, and 60% had been left uninhabitable.
It is estimated that Irma caused at least $50 billion in damage in Florida and led to 84 deaths. Cities like Miami and Jacksonville suffered flooding, and some 60% of homes across Florida were left without power. In Florida inland areas like Immokalee experienced widespread flooding.
The highest recorded storm surge in the US was a 2.3m storm surge. Approximately 7.7 million electrical customers across Florida lost power at some point, this accounts for 73% of customers. Flooding occurred in over 30 rivers and creeks. 50,000 boats were destroyed or damaged.
In the Florida Keys, the hurricane caused major damage to homes, buildings, trailer parks, boats, roads, the electricity supply, mobile phone coverage, internet access, sanitation, the water supply, and the fuel supply. Initially, it was estimated that about 25% of homes were destroyed and 65% of others suffered extensive damage.
100 prisoners escaped jail on the British Virgin Islands.
Many Carribean islands are strongly reliant on tourism and will continue to feel the economic impact of Irma for a long time into the future.
Research suggests that recovery to previous levels could take up to four years, and if this is the case, the region will miss out on over US$3 billion over this timeframe.
Due to the significant impact of several hurricanes during 2017 insurance companies such as Lloyds of London reported an annual loss in earnings.
Six months after Hurricane Irma many in Puerto Rico are still going to school and looking after the elderly in the dark. There are still UK citizens sleeping in a government shelter with nowhere to call home on the Virgin Islands.
The French and UK governments sent aid workers, food and medical equipment to their overseas territories to start the long process of reconstruction there.
£57 million pounds of funding along with 120 tonnes of aid was provided by the UK Government. British military troops along with Department For International Development (DFID) logisticians supported the restoration of electricity to the main power station on the British Virgin Islands as part of the ongoing recovery operation. Additionally, the UK government doubled any public donations made to the Red Cross appeal for the hurricane’s victims up to £3 million.
Six UK medical health experts have been deployed to Antigua to assess the capacity of healthcare provisions on affected islands in the region. 54 officers from forces around the UK, carried out joint patrols of the islands and assisted in policing duties.
Two hundred and fifty Dutch troops were deployed on Sint Maarten to deliver aid, food, medical supplies and building materials – and to maintain security.
The five living former US presidents have raised more than $31m (£23.5m) for victims in the US.
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