Catastrophic Hurricane Irma barreled through parts of the Caribbean with heavy rain and powerful wind this week, leaving some of its biggest tourism destinations devastated. The death toll from the storm has risen to at least 18 people across the region.
The “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of up to 155 miles an hour, is making its way across the Atlantic Friday, moving through the Bahamas and along the northern coast of Cuba, according to the National Hurricane Center said.
Caribbean islands assess the damage
Authorities across the region are evaluating the full extent of the damage.
Irma slammed Turks and Caicos Thursday night, with waves forecasted as high as 20 feet. The country’s communications were down, leaving the full extent of Irma’s impact unknown. Haiti and the Dominican Republic appear to have escaped the worst of the storm, but authorities still cautioned potential flooding.
Almost all of the island of St. Martin was destroyed, with "widescale destruction of infrastructure, houses and businesses," according to officials. In addition to Sonesta Hotels reporting major damage to all three of its resorts, the Westin Dawn Beach also suffered significant damage, while Hotel Mercure suffered some damage as well.
Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that about 95% of the properties on the island nation have been damaged. “Barbuda is barely habitable,” he said. “At least 60 percent of the population of Barbuda is actually homeless [now].”
United States Virgin Islands said in a statement the islands of St. Thomas and St. John “bore the brunt” of Irma’s impact. Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort located in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands has incurred storm-related damage from Hurricane Irma, but no hotel employees or guests were injured, said its owners. In St. Thomas, Windward Passage will be closed for six months due to Hurricane Irma, while Sugar Bay Resort & Spa sustained significant property damage, forcing its closure through Dec. 31, 2017.
It is working closely with engineers and other professionals on a complete damage assessment and comprehensive remediation plan. Portions of the complex will remain closed until a final assessment can be concluded and potential remediation completed.
While nearly 70 percent of households in Puerto Rico were without power, the island is largely unscathed, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said on Thursday.
The tourist board for the Caribbean island of Anguilla says the major resorts on the island survived a hit from Hurricane Irma but many private homes have been damaged. It also says that the airport did not sustain any major damage but that it remains closed along with two ports.
St. Barth's was flooded and private homes and resorts, cluding The Eden Rock Hotel, were severely damaged.
South Florida evacuates
The National Hurricane Center issued hurricane and storm surge warnings for South Florida on Thursday night, resulting in mandatory evacuation orders for parts of Miami-Dade County, Broward County east of US 1, Palm Beach County, low-lying parts of Brevard County, and Monroe County, encompassing the Florida Keys.
In Florida, so many residents and tourists were leaving Thursday there were massive interstate backups and slowdowns. Drivers waited for hours at gas stations, many of which ran out of fuel, as airline passengers stood in line for hours at airports.
According to FlightAware.com, more than 550 flights were cancelled for Friday at Miami International Airport, more than 680 cancelled for Saturday, with 90 flights already cancelled for Sunday. More than 250 flights are cancelled at Orlando International Airport Saturday, as the storm is expected to be impacting northern Florida by that time.
Irma begins to impact florida theme park operations
With the path of the storm projected to run straight up the center of Florida peninsula, Walt Disney World has started to announce closings and event cancellations.
"Walt Disney World Resort is opening under normal conditions and continues to monitor the path of Hurricane Irma," the company said on Thursday. However, Disney’s Blizzard Beach water park will close today, Friday, Sept. 7 and Saturday, Sept. 8. As of this morning, Typhoon Lagoon was expected to be open.
Disney’s Night of Joy has been canceled on Sept. 9 and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party has been canceled on September 10, the theme park posted on its website. Guests are being advised that they can exchange their Sept. 9 Night of Joy tickets for admission Friday, Sept. 8. Refund requests will also be honored.
Guests who had tickets for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary-Halloween party are being offered refunds, exchanges for another date, exchanges for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or 1 Day Magic Your Way tickets with the Park Hopper option, good for two years from exchange.
SeaWorld has “not made any adjustments to our operating schedule, but we encourage guests to check our website regularly for updates,” the company said.
”We are closely monitoring the progress and track of Hurricane Irma. Our parks have comprehensive weather preparedness plans to ensure the safety of our guests, employees and animals.”
Universal Studios also said it is monitoring the weather, but had not changed its park operating hours as of Friday morning. On its website, Universal Studios says it will allow guests to change their vacations plans "without any cancellation or change fees imposed.”