Miami, Florida. Sept 10th. Hurricane Irma is now a category four storm as it heads for the Florida keys, with maximum sustained winds of 130mph (209km/h). Wind gusts close to hurricane force are already battering islands in Florida’s south, with the mainland due to be hit in the coming hours. Water levels are already rising on the coast of the US state where a huge storm surge is expected.
Meanwhile, about seven million people have been evacuated from their homes not only in Florida, but also in other neighboring states such as Alabama and Georgia, where emergency status is also present. In Florida alone are 5.6 million displaced persons, accounting for one fourth of the entire population.
Florida Governor Rick Scott had already ordered the closure of all schools, university campuses and public offices throughout the state.
Irma is predicted to hit the coast on Sunday morning, but the outer bands are already affecting the south of the state and central Miami is being lashed by heavy rain.
The Florida Keys have suffered some minor damage and are expected to bear the brunt of the storm in the coming hours. Thousands of people on the mainland are currently without electricity.
The western Gulf coast is expected to be worst affected, with cities such as Tampa and St Petersburg in the path of the storm. The Tampa Bay area, with a population of about three million, has not been hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
Some 50,000 people have gone to shelters throughout the state, the governor said. Media reports say shelters in some areas have been filling up quickly and some people have been turned away.
Which other areas have already been hit?
Cuba: Officials have reported “significant damage”, without giving further details, but said there were no confirmed casualties yet, the AFP news agency reports
St Martin and St Barthelemy: Six out of 10 homes on St Martin, an island shared between France and the Netherlands, now uninhabitable, French officials say. They said nine people had died and seven were missing in the French territories, while two are known to have died in Dutch Sint Maarten
Turks and Caicos Islands: Widespread damage, although extent unclear
Barbuda: The small island is said to be “barely habitable”, with 95% of the buildings damaged. Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne estimates reconstruction will cost $100m (£80m). One death has been confirmed
Anguilla: Extensive damage with one person confirmed dead
Puerto Rico: More than 6,000 residents of the US territory are in shelters and many more without power. At least three people have died
British Virgin Islands: Widespread damage reported , and five dead
US Virgin Islands: Damage to infrastructure was said to be widespread, with four deaths confirmed
Haiti and the Dominican Republic: Both battered by the storm, but neither had as much damage as initially feared
What about Hurricanes Jose and Katia?
Another storm, Jose, further out in the Atlantic behind Irma, is now a category four hurricane , with winds of up to 145mph. It is following a similar path to Irma and already hampering relief efforts in some of the worst affected areas.
Residents of Barbuda, left the island as Jose approached but it is no longer expected to hit.
However, hurricane warnings are in place for St Martin and St Barthelemy, both also hit by Irma.
Hurricane Katia, in the Gulf of Mexico, a category one storm with winds of up to 75mph, made landfall on the Mexican Gulf coast in the state of Veracruz late on Friday.
It has now weakened to a tropical depression.
Photo: Hurricane Irma Heads For Key West As Category 4 Storm
Meanwhile, the damages already estimated, Irma could outweigh those made by Katrina in 2005 . Hurricane Irma, which is knocking down on Florida, may be the worst in US history in terms of economic costs and a nightmare for insurance companies. According to experts, the final bill could potentially reach $ 200 billion, higher than Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005 with devastating effects of 160 billion and more than 1800 casualties. This could potentially have disruptive effects on the budgets and the tenure of insurance companies.