Deadly devastation as Irma rips through Caribbean

Waves crash against a boat near the shore as Hurricane Irma passes over Samana, Dominican Republic on Thursday. Hurricane Irma cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean. (AP)
Updated 07 September 2017

Deadly devastation as Irma rips through Caribbean

POINTE-A-PITRE: Powerful Hurricane Irma cut a swathe of deadly destruction as it roared through the Caribbean, claiming at least nine lives and turning the tropical islands of St. Martin and Barbuda into mountains of rubble.
One of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, the rare Category Five hurricane churned westward off the northern coast of Puerto Rico early Thursday on a potential collision course with south Florida where at-risk areas were evacuated.
St. Martin — a pristine resort known for its vibrant nightlife which is divided between France and the Netherlands — suffered the full fury of the storm, with rescuers on the French side saying eight people had died and another 21 were injured.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the hurricane had caused “huge damage” to the airport and harbor, leaving the Dutch part of the island unreachable but that there were no immediate reports of deaths.
As the storm raged westwards, it left scenes of widespread devastation on the island with the roofs wrenched off multiple buildings, dozens of huge shipping containers tossed aside like matchsticks and debris flung far and wide, aerial footage from a Dutch naval helicopter showed.
Mangled wreckage of homes, cars and shopfronts was strewn everywhere while massive flooding left many residential areas deep under water.
Speaking to Dutch broadcaster RTL, 20-year-old Koen who lives in the town of Voorhout, said he was shocked by what he saw on venturing outside after the storm passed.
WATCH: Powerful Hurricane Irma devastates island of St. Martin
“There is huge damage. Sand has been blown over everything. Everything is destroyed.”
With Irma raging for more than 33 hours, packing winds of up to 295 kilometers per hour, French weather experts said it was longest-lasting superstorm on record.
“Such an intensity, for such a long period, has never been observed in the satellite era,” which began in the early 1970s, said Etienne Kapikian of Meteo France, indicating it would likely remain a Category Five storm until it hits the Bahamas.
With around 80,000 people living on St. Martin, French and Dutch officials were racing to activate a rescue plan to help their citizens.
On the French side, the storm destroyed 95 percent of homes, officials said, as a 200-strong delegation flew in to Guadeloupe to coordinate rescue efforts, headed by France’s Overseas Territories Minister Annick Girardin.
Rutte said that although the island’s infrastructure had been “badly damaged,” with the storm knocking out the power, the main priority was bring in emergency aid.
“It’s an enormous catastrophe. Ninety-five percent of the island is destroyed,” said Daniel Gibbs, a top official on the French side, in a radio interview.
“I’m in shock. It’s frightening.”
Telephone networks were still down on both sides of the island and French officials warned the death toll could rise as rescue teams scour far-flung parts of St. Martin as well as the nearby French island of St. Barthelemy, also known as St. Bart.
Home to around 9,500 people, St. Bart is known as a playground for the rich and famous, among them Beyonce, Steven Spielberg and Gwyneth Paltrow.
As it raged through the region, Irma also laid waste to Barbuda, part of the twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, which suffered “absolute devastation” with 95 percent of properties damaged, and up to 30 percent demolished, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.
“Barbuda now is literally rubble,” Browne said.
More than half of Puerto Rico’s population of three million is without power, with rivers breaking their banks in the center and north of the island where Governor Ricardo Rossello activated the National Guard and opened storm shelters sufficient for up to 62,000 people.
US President Donald Trump has already declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and Florida.
Category Five is the highest on the scale for hurricanes in the Atlantic and hurricanes of this intensity are rare. They can cause severe flooding, tear off roofing, shatter windows and uproot palm trees, turning them into deadly projectiles.


Pakistan launches anti-polio drive as COVID-19 cases decline

Updated 15 August 2020

Pakistan launches anti-polio drive as COVID-19 cases decline

  • Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio is still endemic
  • Since Jan., Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases from various parts of the country

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health officials on Saturday launched a seven-day vaccination campaign against polio as part of efforts aimed at eliminating the crippling disease amid a steady decline in fatalities and infections from the coronavirus, which had recently overwhelmed the country’s fragile health system.
The anti-polio campaign, which began amid tight security, aims to vaccinate as many as 34 million children across Pakistan, including former Taliban strongholds bordering Afghanistan, a government statement said.
Medical workers participating in the drive against polio were seen adhering to social distancing regulations as they wore face masks and gloves while going house-to-house to avoid a spike in coronavirus cases.
“I am hopeful that parents will continue to realize the importance of vaccinating their children during this campaign,” said Faisal Sultan, an adviser to the prime minister on health issues.
According to Rana Safdar, who heads the government’s polio program, similar campaigns against polio will be launched in October, November and December.
Earlier Saturday, Pakistan’s military said Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist, praised Islamabad’s success in the fight against coronavirus in a telephone call to the country’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. It said Gates also discussed the resumption of the drive against polio.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio — a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the polio virus — is still endemic. The nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has helped Pakistan and other places worldwide fight the disease.
Pakistan had hoped to eliminate the disease by 2018, when only 12 cases were reported. But there was a surge in new cases the following year. Since January, Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases from various parts of the country, including the northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.
Pakistani Taliban and other militants regularly stage attacks on polio teams and security forces escorting them because they claim the anti-polio drive is part of an alleged Western conspiracy to sterilize children or collect intelligence. Attacks on polio teams increased after it was revealed that a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign was used as a ruse by the CIA in the hunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed by US commandos in 2011 in Pakistan.
Pakistan halted the drive against polio in March and resumed it last month amid a decline in infections and fatalities from COVID-19.
On Saturday, Pakistan reported only 9 new deaths from the new virus in the past 24 hours, increasing the country’s total of COVID-19 deaths to 6,162. So far, Pakistan has reported 288,047 cases and officials say about 93% of the patients recovered since February, when the country reported its first confirmed case.