As Hurricane Irma continues on its course to Florida and the American Southeast, evacuations are being ordered in ever-growing numbers of counties.
The Category 4 storm has already unleashed a deluge of rain, strong winds, and surging waters on the French Caribbean.
The governors of St. Martin and Barbuda both said their territories had been ravaged, with destruction being catastrophic. An estimated 95% of residences and structures on the islands were bowled over or damaged by Irma.
In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands – some reports say up to a million – utilities customers are without electricity. Preliminary reports from the U.S. territory suggest that 70% of customers in the San Juan metropolitan area and its surroundings currently have no power.
Now, as Irma continues on a northwestern track, Florida is expected to be hit – and hit hard.
The last time a hurricane on par with Irma swept over the Keys and Miami Beach was in 1992, when Andrew caused an inflation-adjusted $50 billion damage over the course of some several days.
Experts believe Irma could be much more costly, given its power as well as a population influx to Florida since the latter days of the last century. Since 1990, an estimated 6 million new residents have claimed Florida as a new home. Increased development along the seaside has also resulted in countless new and expensive properties which could be at risk from Irma.
Due to the population and construction booms, analysts say damage could exceed $100 billion, on top of the risk presented to tens of thousands of local people.
Tens of thousands of residents of Broward and Miami-Dade County have made their ways onto the freeway, moving inland to avoid the worst of the storm’s effects.
In Miami-Dade County alone, 650,000 people have been ordered to leave their homes and evacuate.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency and urged residents to take evacuation warnings serious.
“This is a catastrophic storm that this state has never seen,” said Scott in a statement.
A state of emergency was also declared in South Carolina.