Fears in Florida as Hurricane Irma hits - Dangerous storm lashes Cuba and heads towards Tampa as Jose poses threat elsewhere
CAIBARIEN, Cuba (AP):
Irma battered Cuba with deafening winds and relentless rain yesterday, 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.
But yesterday, some islands in the region received a last-minute reprieve from Jose as it passed by.
The US National Hurricane Center downgraded a hurricane warning for Barbuda and Anguilla. A hurricane watch also was discontinued for nearby Antigua.
Extensive damage in Cuba
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 sugar cane-growing area, faces a difficult recovery, with its economy in tatters even before the storm because of years of neglect and lack of investment.
In the meantime, Florida started to feel the effects of Irma yesterday as dozens of personnel from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked to secure some of the nation's most contaminated toxic waste sites.
The agency said its employees evacuated personnel, secured equipment and safeguarded hazardous materials in anticipation of storm surges and heavy rains.
A risk analysis by EPA concluded in 2012 that flooding at such sites in South Florida could pose a risk to public health by spreading contaminated soil and groundwater.
Flooding could disturb dangerous pollutants and wash it on to nearby property or contaminate groundwater, including personal wells.