Irma churns through central Florida, leaves trail of destruction

A person battles high winds and rain to take pictures of the flooding along the Miami River as Hurricane Irma passes through on September 10, 2017 in Miami, Florida. Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm on Sunday, lashing the state with 130 mph winds as it moves up the coast. (AFP)
Updated 11 September 2017

Irma churns through central Florida, leaves trail of destruction

TAMPA, Florida,/MIAMI: Hurricane Irma took aim at heavily populated areas of central Florida on Monday as it carved a path of destruction through the state with high winds and storm surges that left millions without power, ripped roofs off homes and flooded city streets.
Irma, once ranked as one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic, came ashore in Florida on Sunday and battered towns as it worked its way up the state.
It weakened to a Category 1 hurricane, carrying maximum sustained winds of about 85 miles per hour (135 km per hour) by 2 a.m. ET (0600 GMT) on Monday, the National Hurricane Center said. The hurricane was churning northwest in the center of the state near the Tampa and Orlando metro areas.
Many areas on both the state’s east and west coasts remained vulnerable to storm surges, when hurricanes push ocean water dangerously over normal levels.
Florida Director of Emergency Management Bryan Koon said officials would wait until first light on Monday to begin rescue efforts and assess damage, adding he did not have yet any numbers on fatalities statewide, the Miami Herald reported.
On Sunday, Irma claimed its first US fatality — a man found dead in a pickup truck that had crashed into a tree in high winds in the town of Marathon, in the Florida Keys, local officials said.
The storm killed at least 28 people as it raged westward through the Caribbean en route to Florida, devastating several small islands, and grazing Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti before pummeling parts of Cuba’s north coast with 36-foot-tall (11-meter) waves.
Irma was ranked a Category 5, the rare top end of the scale of hurricane intensity, for days, and carried maximum sustained winds of up to 185 mph (295 kph) when it crashed into Barbuda island on Wednesday. Its ferocity as it bore down on hurricane-prone Florida prompted one of the largest evacuations in US history.
Some 6.5 million people, about a third of the state’s population, had been ordered to evacuate southern Florida. Residents fled to shelters, hotels or relatives in safer areas.
Many of the evacuation orders extended until at least Monday due in part to flooding, massive power outages and downed electric lines, leaving residents unable to return to their homes to survey any damage.
Jonathan Brubaker, 51, waited out the storm bunkered in a recently constructed house in Bradenton, on the state’s west coast south of Tampa, with hurricane shutters drawn, flashlights and candles ready. As a radar app on his phone showed Irma passing by, he had seen little more than gusty winds. He still had power.
“I feel like we kind of dodged bullet on this one,” he said, adding that he would wait until Monday morning before trying to sleep. “And then, I think we’re OK, knock on wood.”
TV news video of damage in Naples, a city on the Gulf coast about 125 miles (200 km) northwest of Miami, showed buildings ripped apart by hurricane winds and streets flooded by rain and storm surges.
MILLIONS WITHOUT POWER
High winds snapped power lines and left about 4 million Florida homes and businesses without power in the state, whose economy represents about 5 percent of US gross domestic product.
Miami International Airport, one of the busiest in the country, halted passenger flights through at least Monday. The airport said in a Twitter post that after assessing damage, it would determine if flights could resume on Tuesday.
Irma was forecast to continue churning northward along Florida’s Gulf Coast during Monday morning, further weakening along the way before diminishing to tropical-storm status over far northern Florida or southern Georgia later in the day.
It could dump as much as 25 inches (63.5 cm) of rain in parts of Florida and as much as 16 inches in parts of Georgia, prompting flash flood and mudslide warnings, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm’s westward tilt to Florida’s Gulf Coast spared the densely populated Miami area the brunt of its wrath, although the wide reach of the hurricane meant the state’s biggest city was still battered.
SKYSCRAPERS SWAY IN LASHING WINDS
Five tornados were reported in Florida on Sunday, causing damage to several structures but there were no indications of anyone being seriously injured, the National Weather Service said.
Along with hurricane warnings and watches in Florida, the weather service placed tropical storm warnings for large parts of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
Miami apartment towers swayed in the high winds on Sunday, three construction cranes were toppled, and small white-capped waves could be seen in flooded streets between Miami office towers.
Waves poured over a Miami seawall, flooding streets waist-deep in places around Brickell Avenue, which runs a couple of blocks from the waterfront through the financial district and past foreign consulates. High-rise apartment buildings were left standing like islands in the flood.
“We feel the building swaying all the time,” restaurant owner Deme Lomas said in a phone interview from his 35th-floor apartment. “It’s like being on a ship.”
Police in Miami-Dade County said they had made 29 arrests for looting and burglary. “We’re on patrol and won’t tolerate criminal activity as our community recovers from Hurricane Irma,” police said in a Twitter post.
The storm and evacuation orders caused major disruption to transportation in the state that is a major tourist hub. Thousands of flights were canceled.
Irma was expected to cause billions of dollars in damage to the third-most-populous US state.
However European shares rose on Monday in early deals, led higher by insurers as the weakening of Irma raised expectations that costs for the industry might be lower than initially feared.
Irma hit just days after the Houston area was deluged by unprecedented flooding from Hurricane Harvey, which dumped more than 50 inches (127 cm) of rain in parts of Texas.
Harvey killed at least 60 people and caused an estimated $180 billion in property damage.
US President Donald Trump, acting at the governor’s request, approved a major disaster declaration for Florida on Sunday, freeing up emergency federal aid in response to Irma, which he called “some big monster.”


Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

Updated 31 min 40 sec ago

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

  • MCB warning comes after Johnson’s landslide election result
  • UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons   

LONDON: There is a “palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities” in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has warned, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a crushing victory in the 2019 general election.
“We entered the election campaign period with longstanding concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party. Now we worry that Islamophobia is ‘oven-ready’ for government. Mr Johnson has been entrusted with huge power, and we pray it is exercised responsibly for all Britons,” the MCB’s Secretary-General Harun Khan said. 
The warning came as accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party continue to plague it.
Despite concern that Islamophobia is “oven-ready” for government, a record number of Muslim MPs were elected on Thursday, with 19 winning seats in the general election; an increase of four from the last election in 2017.
Of these, 15 belong to the Labour Party and the other four, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, are Conservatives. 
As the UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons, this trend was also seen in the number of Muslim women, with 10 winning seats. 
Despite this, Muslims are still not proportionally represented in parliament.
Only 3 percent of the UK’s 650 MPs are Muslim, whilst the country’s Muslim population stands at around 5 percent.
The MCB’s concerns about bigotry and Islamophobia were echoed on Thursday by ex-party chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first female Muslim cabinet member.
Warsi said the Conservative Party “must start healing its relationship with British Muslims,” and the fact that her colleagues in the party had retweeted comments from Islamophobes Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins was “deeply disturbing.” 
She added: “An independent inquiry into Islamophobia is a must — the battle to root out racism must now intensify.”
The Tory peer has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and told BBC Radio 4’s Today program in November that the party had a “deep problem” with Islamophobia. 
“Remember, we’re now four years into these matters first being brought to the attention of the party … the fact that we’re still prevaricating about even having an inquiry, and the kind of inquiry we’re going to have, shows just how dismissive the party have been on the issue of Islamophobia.”

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP for Bolton South East Yasmin Qureshi (L) attend a general election campaign event in Bolton, Britain December 10, 2019. (Reuters)


Later in November, Johnson apologized for the “hurt and offence” that had been caused by Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” would begin by Christmas. 
Despite apologizing, he remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women wearing the niqab in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, when he wrote that Muslim women wearing it “look like letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Fourteen party members were suspended in March after posting Islamophobic or racist comments on social media, and a member who had previously been suspended in 2015 for comments on social media was due to stand in local elections this year. 
Peter Lamb was readmitted to the party after he had served a suspension and apologized for his comments.
Lamb, who has since quit the party, tweeted in 2015: “Islam (is) like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is admit you have a problem.”
Yasmin Qureshi, a female Muslim Labour MP, has held her Bolton South East seat since 2010 and was re-elected on Thursday for the fourth time.
Speaking to Arab News, Qureshi said many Muslims were “very fearful and very disappointed” at Johnson’s victory.
“Generally, you can say whatever you want about Muslims in this country now and nobody is really bothered, nobody challenges it, and if it is challenged, it is very mildly dealt with.
“Islamophobia is a big issue and although everybody rightly spoke about anti-semitism, there was not as much emphasis and talk about Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is not just in the Conservative party, it is actually in the establishment. It is especially present in the media in this country; most of the newspapers of our country are very right-wing and anti-Muslim.
She added: “It doesn’t matter whether you malign Muslims, it’s essentially okay, you can get away with it. That is sadly a reflection of the current state of affairs in the UK.”