Hurricane Irene barrels toward US as Caribbean islands take stock of damage
Hurricane Irene is now headed for North Carolina after pummeling Caribbean island nations from the Bahamas to the Dominican Republic, causing some $3.1 billion in damage.
As communities up and down the East Coast braced for the first major hurricane to reach their shores in years, Caribbean countries began cleaning up from the deadly and expensive storm.
From the tiny islands in the Eastern Caribbean, where British billionaire Richard Branson's mansion burned to the ground, to the Bahamas, where it pummeled small outlying islands, the first hurricane of the 2011 season was a destructive one.
While the damage is tame compared to past hurricanes that have ravaged the storm-prone region, clean up and rebuilding in the hardest hit areas will be arduous.
Hollywood actress Kate Winslet was reportedly inside at the time and is credited with helping to save Mr. Branson's mother.
“Many thanks to Kate Winslet for helping to carry my 90-year-old mum out of the main house to safety,” Branson wrote on his blog. “All family and friends are well, which in the end is all that really matters.”
The storm would later turn deadly, however.
In Puerto Rico, at least one person was killed and roughly 500 were left homeless. In neighboring Dominican Republic, authorities said at least three people died, several more were missing and that 37,743 people had fled their homes.
Emergency workers in the Dominican Republic maintained red alerts – the highest warning level – for 24 of its provinces as rain continued to fall, cresting rivers and flooding homes.
Floods ravage Dominican Republic
“The danger from this storm is ongoing, even if the hurricane has gone,” says José Luis Germán, deputy director of the country’s Emergency Operations Center. Communications with than 85 communities had been severed by the storm, he said, meaning that the number of people affected would likely rise after the full extent of the damage was revealed.
Several communities saw widespread flooding as rivers overflowed.
Hurricane Irene tame compared to others
Despite the substantial damage it caused, Hurricane Irene was not nearly the most disastrous for the Caribbean – a region accustomed to brutal storms.
History books tell us that the Great Hurricane of 1780 killed roughly 22,000 people, pounding the Caribbean for a week. That storm predated modern record keeping.
Since the 1850s, when record keeping began, the Caribbean’s deadliest storm struck in 1930. Hurricane San Zenon, also known as the Dominican Republic Hurricane, killed at least 2,000 people and injured an estimated 15,000, according to the country’s National Meteorological Office. The storm leveled the capital, Santo Domingo.
Irene’s impact on the US is expected to be widespread. The Miami-based National Hurricane Center predicts the storm will hit North Carolina on Saturday and continue north through New England. The storm’s exact path is yet to be seen. But even communities 70 miles from the hurricane’s center could feel hurricane-force winds.
The costliest hurricane in US history, by far, was Hurricane Katrina, which, in 2005, caused $81 billion in damage and killed at least 1,836 people.