Hurricane Irma Will ‘Devastate’ Part of US: Emergency Services Head

September 8, 2017 11:04 am Last Updated: September 8, 2017 11:05 am

WASHINGTON—Anticipating that Hurricane Irma will “devastate” part of the United States, U.S. officials were preparing a massive response to the storm, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said on Friday.

With Irma set to hit Florida as early as Saturday night, parts of Florida was expected to lose electricity for days, if not longer, and more than 100,000 people may need shelter, FEMA Administrator Brock Long warned at a news conference.

“Hurricane Irma continues to be a threat that is going to devastate the United States in either Florida or some of the southeastern states,” Long said.

The aftermath of Hurricane Irma on Saint Martin. (Netherlands Ministry of Defense via REUTERS)
The aftermath of Hurricane Irma on Saint Martin. (Netherlands Ministry of Defense via REUTERS)

Irma was a Category 5 hurricane, the most dangerous measure by the National Hurricane Center, before being downgraded to Category 4 early Friday after pummeling islands in the Caribbean.

The United States has experienced only three Category 5 storms since 1851 and Irma is far larger than the last one to hit the United States in 1992, Hurricane Andrew, according to Long.

He warned people not to ignore evacuation orders.

“They need to get out and listen and heed the warnings,” Long said.

Officials have thousands of personnel ready to respond and millions of meals and liters of water in place nearby, Long said.

Waves crash along the shores as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
Waves crash along the shores as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

The National Weather Service said that Friday was the last day to evacuate before winds would start to reach unsafe speeds in Florida.

Airlines added extra flights from Florida on Thursday before announcing plans to halt service from some southern Florida airports starting Friday afternoon.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price called Irma a “remarkably dangerous storm and the window to get yourself in the right spot … is closing rapidly.”

Price said the main hospital in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands was closed after being damaged by Irma, and critically ill patients were being evacuated to Puerto Rico or other islands.

Pleasure craft lie crammed against the shore in Paraquita Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.  Courtesy Ron Gurney/via REUTERS
Pleasure craft lie crammed against the shore in Paraquita Bay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Courtesy Ron Gurney/via REUTERS

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted 80-17 to approve a measure to more than double funding to $15.25 billion to FEMA and for local block grants to handle natural disasters. FEMA’s disaster assistance fund could run out of money Friday without action, senators said.

The House is expected to approve the measure on Friday. It had already approved $7.85 billion on Wednesday.

By David Shepardson

U.S. President Donald Trump is seen in an official White House handout photo with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L), Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser Thomas Bossert (2ndR) and Vice President Mike Pence (R) as he participates in an Oval Office briefing tracking the approach of Hurricane Irma toward the coast of Florida, at the White House in Washington on Sept. 7, 2017. (Andrea Hanks/Courtesy of the White House/Handout via REUTERS)
U.S. President Donald Trump is seen in an official White House handout photo with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L), Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser Thomas Bossert (2ndR) and Vice President Mike Pence (R) as he participates in an Oval Office briefing tracking the approach of Hurricane Irma toward the coast of Florida, at the White House in Washington on Sept. 7, 2017. (Andrea Hanks/Courtesy of the White House/Handout via REUTERS)