Fri. 11:45 a.m.: Irma’s death toll hits 20
The death toll from Hurricane Irma has increased to 20 with four more deaths reported in the British Virgin Islands. The other lives lost include nine on the French Caribbean islands of St. Martin and St. Barts, four in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and one each on the islands of Anguilla, Barbuda and the Dutch side of St. Martin.
The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency gave no details about the latest confirmed deaths in the British territory of about 40 small islands, where Irma caused major damage late Wednesday, especially to the largest and most populated island of Tortola.
The British government has been coordinating relief efforts to the cluster of islands near Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Caribbean disaster agency says the Tortola airport is operational but the tower has been “compromised.”
Meanwhile, authorities on the Dutch territory of St. Maarten say it will take months before people can recover from Hurricane Irma. Prime Minister William Marlin told the Dutch military that the Caribbean island lost many, many homes; schools are destroyed; both government buildings are severely damaged; many people have lost their homes; hotels are so damaged that tourists won’t come; the electricity company lost its roof so generators aren’t working; nearly half the water tanks are gone; and all the gas stations are destroyed.
He also confirms that people have been looting. He calls it “a psychological thing that happens anywhere in the world following a major disaster like this. People become kind of hopeless and there is no communication.”
In Florida, Sea World and its properties today announced closings for the weekend.
Sea World and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay will close at 5 p.m. Saturday, pending further updates on the storm. Both parks will remain closed Sunday and Monday. Aquatics Orlando will be closed Saturday through Monday. Discovery Cove will be closed Sunday and Monday. Disney World and Universal Orlando have not responded for requests on updated to their plans.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said traffic officials have decided against reversing the direction of southbound lanes because they still need to move gas and supplies south.
A massive evacuation has clogged Florida’s major highways. Scott says most of the state will have hurricane impacts and “we are running out of time — the storm is almost here.” So what they are doing is opening up the shoulders to drivers on Interstate 75 from Wildwood, where the Florida turnpike ends, to the Georgia state line.
In Georgia meanwhile, Gov. Nathan Deal just announced contraflow starting Saturday morning on Interstate 16 to ease the mandatory evacuation from Savannah and other coastal communities.