Posts Tagged ‘St. Bart’s’

Tampa mayor: Irma wrath not as bad as feared — The latest

September 11, 2017

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on Hurricane Irma (all times local):

7 a.m.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says that while the city hasn’t escaped Hurricane Irma’s wrath, the situation isn’t as bad as they had feared.

Speaking Monday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Buckhorn said “What we thought was going to be a punch in the face was a glancing blow.”

Buckhorn did say there are a lot of downed power lines and debris.

He said Tampa’s officials have vehicles positioned “to be sure that when that surge comes in we can keep people out of the streets.”

He said he expected power to be out for some sections of Tampa for at least a couple more days.

Hurricane Irma is getting weaker as it moves over the western Florida peninsula after hitting the state Sunday as a Category 4 storm.


6:45 a.m.

Police in Miami are investigating reports of people looting stores as Hurricane Irma hit the state.

On Sunday night, Miami police took two people into custody and detained two others.

Deputy Police Chief Luis Cabrera told the Miami Herald the officers went to the Shops at Midtown on Sunday afternoon as the winds of Hurricane Irma were at their strongest in South Florida. Cabrera says a group in a white truck hit multiple locations. Police have also received additional reports of looting in the city.

Police had issued a curfew Saturday night, partly to ward off looters by giving officers probable cause to stop anyone for being on the street during the storm.

Cabrera didn’t have specific details about the looting incidents.

Hurricane Irma pummeled Florida from coast-to-coast with winds up to 130 mph Sunday, swamping homes and boats, knocking out power to millions and toppling massive cranes. Irma’s winds slowed to around 100 mph before midnight. (Sept. 11)


6:45 a.m.

The British government is defending its response to Hurricane Irma amid claims it has been slow to help its overseas territories devastated by the storm.

The British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos islands were all pummeled by the hurricane last week, leaving thousands without electricity or shelter.

Opposition politicians have compared Britain’s response unfavorably to that of France, which has sent more than 1,000 troops, police and emergency workers to St. Martin and St. Barts.

Britain has dispatched a navy ship and nearly 500 troops, including medics and engineers.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Monday that Britain had responded strongly to an “unprecedented catastrophe.” He says the government will soon increase the 32 million pounds ($42 million) it’s pledged to the relief effort.


6:30 a.m.

Police in Lakeland, Florida, say a family with small children was rescued from a car that was submerged in water as Hurricane Irma crossed the area.

Lakeland police said in a Facebook post that officers rescued the family of four early Monday as water reached the children’s car seats. No one was injured and police were able to get the family back to their home.

“When you become a police officer you hope to make a difference in the lives of others,” the Facebook post said. “Tonight, there is no doubt these officers made a difference.”

Lakeland is between Tampa and Orlando, off of Interstate 4.

Hurricane Irma is getting weaker as it moves over the western Florida peninsula after hitting the state Sunday as a Category 4 storm.


6:30 a.m.

A Florida sheriff’s sergeant and a paramedic were trapped in a sheriff’s vehicle when a live power pole fell on the cruiser as they were returning from dropping off an elderly patient as Hurricane Irma moved over the state.

Polk County spokesman Kevin Watler said in a news release that Sgt. Chris Lynn and Polk County Fire Rescue paramedic James Tanner Schaill were trapped for about two hours late Sunday.

Crews from Lakeland Electric crews disconnected the lines around 1:15 a.m. Monday. Both men have returned to their jobs to continue assisting hurricane recovery efforts.


6:10 a.m.

More than 120 homes are being evacuated in Orange County, just outside Orlando, as floodwaters from Hurricane Irma started to pour in.

The Orange County Emergency Operations Center said early Monday that the fire department and the National Guard are going door-to-door using boats to ferry families to safety. No injuries have been reported. The rescued families are being taken a shelter for safety.

A few miles away, 30 others had to be evacuated when a 60-foot sinkhole opened up under an apartment building. No injuries were reported in that incident.

Hurricane Irma is getting weaker as it moves over the western Florida peninsula after hitting the state Sunday as a Category 4 storm.


5 a.m.

Hurricane Irma is getting weaker as it moves over the western Florida peninsula early Monday.

Irma hit Florida on Sunday as a powerful Category 4 hurricane, hammering much of the state with roof-ripping winds, gushing floodwaters and widespread power outages.

By Monday morning, Irma had weakened to a Category 1 hurricane with winds near 85 mph (135 kph). Additional weakening is forecast and Irma is expected to become a tropical storm over northern Florida or southern Georgia later in the day.


4:45 a.m.

Dutch search and rescue experts are heading to the shattered former colony of St. Maarten to support the humanitarian relief effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

A team of 59 urban search and rescue experts is flying Monday to the Dutch territory that’s home to some 40,000 people, where 70 percent of homes were badly damaged last week by a direct hit from the Category 5 storm. Four people were killed and dozens injured.

The Dutch government also is sending extra troops to maintain order following widespread looting and robberies. The government says there are already nearly 400 extra troops in St. Maarten and that number will rise to some 550 over the next two days.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander is expected to visit the island Monday to show his support for local residents and the emergency services working to restore infrastructure and begin the process of reconstruction.


2 a.m.

Irma weakened to a Category 1 storm as the massive hurricane zeroed in on the Tampa Bay region early Monday after hammering much of Florida with roof-ripping winds, gushing floodwaters and widespread power outages.

The hurricane’s maximum sustained winds weakened to 85 mph (135 kph) with additional weakening expected.

As of 2 a.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Tampa and moving north-northwest near 15 mph (24 kph).

Irma continues its slog north along Florida’s western coast having blazed a path of unknown destruction. With communication cut to some of the Florida Keys, where Irma made landfall Sunday, and rough conditions persisting across the peninsula, many are holding their breath for what daylight might reveal.


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More Aid, Evacuations in Caribbean Islands Battered by Irma

September 11, 2017

HAVANA — With ports mended and weather cleared, officials sent in more aid and arranged stepped-up evacuations Monday in remote Caribbean islands devastated and cut off by Hurricane Irma.

Many in the chain of Leeward Islands known as the playground for the rich and famous have criticized governments for failing to respond quickly to the disaster caused by the Category 5 hurricane.

The storm stripped the islands’ formerly lush green hills to a brown stubble and flattened buildings, then swamped much of Cuba’s coastline, including Havana’s iconic Malecon seawall.

At least 24 people died in Anguilla, Barbuda, the French-Dutch island of St. Martin, St. Barts, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. Among them was a 2-year-old boy swept away when his home filled with water.

Residents have reported shortages of food, water and medicine, and many have complained of looting.

The U.S. government said it was sending a flight Monday to evacuate its citizens from one of the hardest hit islands, St. Martin. Evacuees were warned to expect long lines and no running water at the airport.

A Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship was expected to dock near St. Martin to help in the aftermath, and a boat was bringing a 5-ton crane capable of unloading large shipping containers filled with aid. A French military ship was scheduled to arrive Tuesday with materials to build temporary housing.

Some 70 percent of the beds at the main hospital in the French portion of St. Martin were severely damaged, and more than 100 people in need of urgent medical care have been evacuated. Eight of the territory’s 11 pharmacies were destroyed, and Guadeloupe was sending medication.

On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron was scheduled to arrive in St. Martin to bring aid and fend off criticism that he didn’t do enough to respond to the storm’s wrath.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the “whole government is mobilized” to help and the pillaging that hit the island in the immediate aftermath of the storm had stopped.

Macron promised to go to the region as soon as weather conditions allowed. Soon after Irma left 10 dead on St. Martin, Category 4 Hurricane Jose threatened the area, halting evacuations for hours before heading out to sea and causing little additional damage.

Also hit hard was Cuba, where central Havana neighborhoods along the coast between the Almendares River and the harbor suffered the brunt of the flooding. Seawater penetrated as much as a half-kilometer (one-third of a mile) inland in places.

There were no reported fatalities in Cuba, and government officials credited their disaster preparedness and evacuation of more than 1 million people from flood-prone areas.

Hector Pulpito recounted a harrowing night at his job as night custodian of a parking lot that flooded five blocks from the sea in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.

“This was the worst of the storms I have been through, and the sea rose much higher,” Pulpito said. “The trees were shaking. Metal roofs went flying.”

Cuban state television reported severe damage to hotels on the northern keys off Ciego de Avila and Camaguey provinces.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma reported that the Jardines del Rey airport serving the northern keys was destroyed and posted photos to Twitter showing the shattered terminal hall littered with debris.


Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez reported this story in Havana and AP writer Desmond Boylan reported from Caibarien, Cuba. AP writer Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.


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Hurricane Irma’s Surge Poses Major Risk to Florida

September 9, 2017

Low-lying areas brace for wall of seawater before Category 5 storm makes landfall on Sunday

Lines of cars on the northbound turnpike lanes near Wildwood, Fla., on Friday.
Lines of cars on the northbound turnpike lanes near Wildwood, Fla., on Friday. PHOTO: STEPHEN M. DOWELL/ZUMA PRESS

Hurricane Irma, the most powerful storm to take aim at Florida in decades, is on a path that presents the worst-case scenario for deadly storm surges and powerful winds when it strikes the state Sunday, threatening millions of homes and businesses.

Irma is a massive storm, covering an area more than double the size of Florida, and generating sustained winds of more than 150 miles an hour. It has already killed more than 20 people after flattening the Caribbean islands of St. Martin and Barbuda as it arced north toward Florida. The Category 5 hurricane’s impact could reach as far north as Indiana and Illinois, forecasters say, affecting about 50 million people.

Long lines of cars clogged Florida’s highways after authorities and forecasters implored the state’s 20.6 million people to leave low-lying coastal lands expected to be inundated by hurricane-driven seawater.

Storm surges, one of the most deadly threats of Hurricane Irma, can rise to 9 feet to 20 feet high, depending on whether the storm hits the peninsula from the Atlantic on the east or the shallower Gulf of Mexico to the west.

On Friday, forecasters adjusted the storm’s possible track more toward Florida’s west coast.

“If it comes in from the Gulf side, Tampa Bay could just get hammered and that really is one of the big catastrophic events we have been worried about for some time,” said Kyle Mandli, assistant professor of mathematics at Columbia University.

But Mr. Mandli warns the entire state could remain at risk if the hurricane tracks up the middle of the state and causes storm surges on both coasts, though those would probably not be as high.

With Irma now projected to make landfall in the Florida Keys about daybreak Sunday, weather experts say the flooding could begin hours earlier because surges from a hurricane start to hit land in advance of the storm’s center. The surge peaks as the hurricane eyewall crosses onto land, said Robert Bea, professor emeritus at the University of California’s Center for Catastrophic Risk Management. “We’re talking several hours of surge,” Mr. Bea said.

Storm surges, created when the high wind of a hurricane forces ocean waters onshore, account for half of the deaths and most of the destruction caused by the majority of hurricanes, weather experts say.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez cited a possible life-threatening storm surge when he expanded the county’s evacuation zone on Thursday, now affecting more 650,000 residents.

Much of the estimated $62 billion in U.S. damage from superstorm Sandy in 2012 was caused by the storm surge that slammed the Eastern seaboard, according to an analysis by the U.S. Geological Survey.  Storm surge was cited by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the major cause of the $75 billion in destruction along the Gulf Coast from 2005’s Katrina, which leveled beachfront communities in Mississippi and inundated the city of New Orleans.

On Florida’s coasts, which will face the brunt of the hurricane’s destructive force, about 3.5 million residential and commercial properties are at risk of storm-surge damage and almost 8.5 million properties are at risk of wind damage, according to data provider CoreLogic.

The last Florida storm that was the size of Hurricane Irma, which intensified into a Category 5 storm late Friday, was Hurricane Andrew in 1992. That storm was originally classified as Category 4 but was reclassified in 2002 to a Category 5.

Catastrophe-modeling firm Karen Clark & Co. said a repeat of Hurricane Andrew on the same path as in 1992 would cause $50 billion in insured losses. The same storm directly hitting Miami today would cause more than $200 billion in losses, the firm said.

Miami, however, is protected by a rapid drop offshore thanks to the continental shelf, which is unlike Florida’s mostly shallow Gulf of Mexico coast. As a result, the surge hitting Miami is likely to be lower than if it moves along the Gulf Coast, according to NOAA.

The highest waves are typically centered on the leading right side of the storm, where counterclockwise winds in the Northern Hemisphere push the bulk of a hurricane’s destructive force. The surge waves are made even higher when they travel across shallow coastal waters, said Robert Bohlin, a meteorologist with the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu.

Historically, the biggest storm surges in U.S. history have taken place in shallow Gulf waters. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 produced the nation’s highest recorded surge of 27.8 feet at Pass Christian, Miss. At least 1,500 people died in Katrina—many from the surge—and entire beachfront neighborhoods were washed away by the waves, NOAA officials said.

If Irma takes an unusual track—essentially up the length of the Sunshine State—hurricane experts aren’t exactly sure how the surge pattern will play out. If it shifts slightly to the west, much higher surge could inundate parts of Florida’s Gulf Coast, said Columbia’s Mr. Mandli.

“Even a shift of a few kilometers could be the difference between a huge disaster and something more manageable,” Mr. Mandli said.

Damage from a storm surge is considered flooding, which isn’t covered by standard homeowners insurance policies. Flood damage is largely covered by the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, which provides homeowners up to $250,000 to repair a home and $100,000 for personal possessions.

Homeowners in high-risk flood zones are required by their mortgage providers to buy flood insurance, but consumers outside those areas often forgo the coverage.

Businesses can buy federal flood insurance, which covers up to $500,000 for damage to a building and $500,000 for its contents. Commercial-property insurance for large businesses often includes flood coverage.

Miami could face a major economic loss even with a smaller surge because it has such a high concentration of office buildings and other development near the coast, said Mr. Bea at the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management in California.

“Downtown office buildings there are not designed for surge,” Mr. Bea said.

With water weighing about 1,700 pounds per cubic yard, NOAA officials say extended pounding by waves could destroy a structure not designed to handle such force.

In Miami Beach’s South Beach neighborhood, Al Marin said he planned to stay put for Irma, despite a mandatory evacuation order covering Miami Beach and the departure of numerous friends.

“They all left town. They’re afraid,” Mr. Marin said. He wasn’t concerned about Irma’s potent winds, he said. “I’m more worried about the storm surge.” But not enough to abandon the beach.

Another concern is for the possibility of Irma’s high winds creating an inland surge on Lake Okeechobee, as happened in a 1928 hurricane when waves caused the large body of water north of Miami to overflow and drown at least 2,500 people in nearby cities. “If Okeechobee gets hit with rainfall and intense winds, it can cause another surge there,” Mr. Bea said.

Florida has been lowering the water level of Lake Okeechobee in anticipation of the storm, Gov. Rick Scott has said.

Corrections & Amplifications 
Hurricane Irma flattened the Caribbean islands of St. Martin and Barbuda as it arced north toward Florida. An earlier version of this article incorrectly named the island as Barbudo. (Sept. 8, 2017)

Write to Jim Carlton at and Nicole Friedman at

Appeared in the September 9, 2017, print edition as ‘Irma’s Surge Poses Big Risk.’

Irma lashes Cuba, with another hurricane in its wake — Connect to live feed

September 9, 2017

France 24

Latest update : 2017-09-09

Hurricane Irma is lashing Cuba and aiming for Florida after devastating several Caribbean islands, with Hurricane Jose following close behind. Follow our liveblog for the latest updates.

  • Hurricane Irma made landfall on the northern coast of Cuba early on Saturday after regaining Category 5 strength.
  • The powerful storm is expected to reach Florida next, where more than five million people have been told to evacuate.
  • Irma has left a trail of destruction across the Caribbean, with at least 22 people killed, according to the AP news agency. The dead include 11 on St. Martin and St. Barts, four in the US Virgin Islands and four in the British Virgin Islands. Three people were killed in Barbuda, Anguilla and Barbados.
  • Another Category 4 hurricane, Jose, is heading towards the Caribbean islands already devastated by Irma.

To follow the liveblog on a mobile or tablet device please click here.

The Latest: Irma Rakes Cuba as Category 5 Hurricane — Strong winds and heavy rain

September 9, 2017

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua — The Latest on Hurricane Irma (all times local):

2:20 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center says the eye of Irma is moving over the Camaguey Archipelago of Cuba as a Category 5 hurricane.

The center says Irma made landfall there late Friday and has maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (257 kph). The hurricane is about 275 miles (443 kilometers) from Miami and moving about 12 mph (19.3 kph) toward the west.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia made landfall late Friday north of Tecolutla, Mexico and weakened to a tropical storm, with winds reaching 45 mph (72.4 kph).

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose is a Category 4 hurricane, about 240 miles (386 kilometers)east-southeast of the Northern Leeward Islands, moving roughly westward at 14 mph (23 kph)with winds reaching 150 mph.


12:35 a.m.

A newly strengthened Irma is taking aim at south Florida with 160 mph (257 kph) winds after battering Cuba and leaving more than 20 dead across the Caribbean, as another hurricane follows close behind.

Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday. Thousands of people in the Caribbean fought desperately to find shelter or escape their storm-blasted islands, and more than 6 million people in Florida and Georgia were warned to leave their homes.

Many residents and tourists were left reeling after the storm ravaged some of the world’s most exclusive tropical playgrounds, known for their turquoise waters and lush green vegetation. Among them: St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Anguilla.

Irma threatened to push its way northward from one end of Florida to the other beginning Sunday morning.


BBC News

Hurricane Irma: Cuba hit with strong winds and heavy rain

Palm trees sway in strong winds in Caibarien, Cuba. Photo: 8 September 2017
Hurricane Irma bringing powerful winds to Cuba. Reuters photo

Hurricane Irma is lashing Cuba with strong winds and heavy rain after devastating several Caribbean islands.

The category five storm made landfall on the Camaguey Archipelago, off the north-eastern coast.

But the Bahamas have largely been spared after Irma changed track.

In Florida, 5.6 million people, or 25% of the US state’s population, have been told to leave as the storm approaches. At least 20 people are known to have died so far across the Caribbean.

Irma, which strengthened in the last few hours, hit the Camaguey Archipelago late on Friday, threatening nearby coastal towns and villages.

This is the first time a category five hurricane has hit Cuba in decades.

At 03:00 GMT on Saturday, Irma had maximum sustained winds of 257km/h (160mph), the National Hurricane Center in the US said.

The eye of the storm was about 190km (120 miles) east-southeast of the Cuban fishing town of Caibarien.

A hurricane warning is currently in effect in the provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara and Matanzas.

Some communities have lost power, and communication is becoming increasingly difficult with towns in more remote areas, the BBC’s Will Grant in Havana reports.

Residents are hoping the storm will just glance the island before heading across the Florida Straits to Miami.

Even that, however, could bring dangerous flash flooding and storm surges in many populated areas, our Havana correspondent says.

Path of Hurricane Irma

Earlier, people tried to secure their roofs and move belongings from low-lying coastal areas to higher ground.

“There are really strong gusts of wind. It is pouring off and on, and the lights are out,” Anaida Gonzalez, a retired nurse in the Camaguey province, told Reuters.

About 50,000 tourists are fleeing or have fled Cuba, with resorts on the north coast now empty, the news agency reports.

A dolphin is prepared to be transferred from Ciego de Avila
Even dolphins, who entertain tourists in water centres, have been moved to safety. EPA photo
Why Hurricane could be worse for Florida than Andrew 25 years ago

Irma is expected to hit Florida on Sunday.

Brock Long, the head of the US federal emergency agency, warned that Irma would “devastate” either Florida or neighbouring states.

He said that parts of Florida would be without power for days.

“The entire south-eastern United States better wake up and pay attention,” he added.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said all Floridians should be prepared for possible evacuation, and issued a stark warning to those in threatened areas.

“We are running out of time. If you are in an evacuation zone, you need to go now,” he told reporters.

“Remember, we can rebuild your home, we can’t rebuild your life.”

Rose Brooks, who survived the storm that decimated Barbuda, describes the chaos

The death toll continued to rise on Friday in the Caribbean.

France’s Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said nine people were dead and seven missing in the French territory on St Martin, an island shared with the Netherlands, and St Barthélemy.

Another death – the second – has been confirmed in the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten.

French officials said six out of 10 homes on Saint-Martin were so badly damaged that they were uninhabitable.

US President Donald Trump spoke on Friday to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to extend his condolences and offer support, the White House said.

French, British and Dutch military authorities have deployed aid – including warships and planes equipped with food, water and troops – to their territories.

Reporting from another badly damaged island, Barbuda, the BBC’s Laura Bicker says the destruction there is worse than feared.

Which other areas have already been hit?

The island of Barbuda is “barely habitable”, says PM Gaston Browne
  • Turks and Caicos Islands: widespread damage, although extent unclear
  • Barbuda: the small island is said to be “barely habitable”, with 95% of the buildings damaged. Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne estimates reconstruction will cost $100m (£80m). One death has been confirmed
  • Anguilla: extensive damage with one person confirmed dead
  • Puerto Rico: more than 6,000 residents of the US territory are in shelters and many more without power. At least three people have died
  • British Virgin Islands: widespread damage reported
  • US Virgin Islands: damage to infrastructure was said to be widespread, with four deaths confirmed
  • Haiti and the Dominican Republic: Both battered by the storm, but neither had as much damage as initially feared
British disaster relief troops in Anguilla
British troops have arrived in Anguilla to take part in the disaster relief operation. MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

Are there more hurricanes to come?

Another storm, Jose, further out in the Atlantic behind Irma, is now a category four hurricane, with winds of up to 240km/h (150mph).

It is following a similar path to Irma and already hampering relief efforts in some of the worst affected areas.

Residents of Barbuda, where 95% of buildings have been destroyed by Irma, have now left the island as Jose approaches.

Hurricane Katia, in the Gulf of Mexico, a category one storm with winds of up to 75mph, made landfall on the Mexican Gulf coast in the state of Veracruz late on Friday.

The storm is expected to weaken rapidly in the coming hours.

Are you in the region? Are you a holidaymaker unable to get a flight home or a resident who has been preparing for Hurricane Irma? If it is safe for you to do so, share your experiences by emailing

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also contact us in the following ways:

Hurricane Irma of ‘unprecedented intensity’ in the Atlantic — Category Five hurricane — ‘Potentially catastrophic’

September 6, 2017


© AFP | The Category Five hurricane is set to strike the popular holiday destinations of Saint Martin and Saint-Barthelemy, with the French weather service warning of 12-metre (39-foot) swells and “extremely violent floods along the shore”

PARIS (AFP) – Hurricane Irma is of “unprecedented intensity” in the Atlantic, meteorologists said Wednesday, as they advised residents of tiny Caribbean islands to take shelter as the massive storm approached.The Category Five hurricane is set to strike the popular holiday destinations of Saint Martin and Saint-Barthelemy, with the French weather service warning of 12-metre (39-foot) swells and “extremely violent floods along the shore”.

“Irma is a hurricane of unprecedented intensity in the Atlantic,” said Meteo France, warning residents of the islands to stay indoors.

Meteo France said there would be a “major submersion of the low-lying parts of the coast”, with the towns of Marigot and Grand Case on the Franco-Dutch island of Saint-Martin and Gustavia in French Saint-Barthelemy to “be particularly impacted”.

The storm is expected to bring torrential rains, with 200-400 millimetres (8-16 inches) forecast.

Irma was continuing to strengthen, with gusts reaching 360 kilometres per hour (224 miles per hour) near the northern Lesser Antilles.


British tourists are being brought back from the Caribbean as the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history bore down on the region.

The eye of Irma, a Category 5 storm packing winds of 185mph, was expected to sweep through the northern Leeward Islands, east of Puerto Rico, on Tuesday night or early on Wednesday, en route to a Florida landfall on Saturday, the US National Hurricane Centre said.

Irma was set to strike the popular holiday destinations of Saint Martin and Saint-Barthelemy, with the French weather service warning of 12-metre (39-foot) swells and “extremely violent floods along the shore”.


‘Potentially catastrophic’ Hurricane Irma nears eastern Caribbean islands

Story highlights

  •  Center of storm is 50 miles from Antigua, Barbuda
  • Storm has 185 mph sustained winds, 5 mph slower than Atlantic record

(CNN) — As Floridians cleared supermarkets of bottled water and emptied gas pumps, people in the northeastern Caribbean were making last minute-preparations before powerful Hurricane Irma hit their islands.


Late Tuesday, the massive Category 5 storm was almost upon islands like Antigua and Barbuda with near-record 185 mph sustained winds. In its 11 p.m. ET advisory, the US National Hurricane Center said the eye of the hurricane was 50 miles from the two islands.
The center of the storm was moving to the west-northwest at 15 mph.
The hurricane center said the extremely dangerous core of Irma would hit the northern Leeward Islands — which include Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Anguilla — Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
It’s too early to tell whether the storm will make landfall on the US mainland, but forecasts show it could turn toward Florida over the weekend.
Forecasters’ most immediate concerns are for the people of the northeastern Caribbean, the hurricane center’s Michael Brennan said.

“Anguilla, all the way toward (Antigua and) Barbuda, all the way up even toward the British Virgin Islands (are) in grave danger of an eye wall hit at (at least) 150 mph — that devastates the island, no matter what island it is,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said Tuesday.
Those islands are under hurricane warnings, as are Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Martin/St. Maarten, and St. Barts.
One Twitter user in St. Barts posted a photo of rain coming down and winds beginning to sway the leaves of the palm trees Tuesday evening.
The hurricane center warned the storm is “potentially catastrophic,” especially if the worst conditions hit islands at high tides.
Read the rest:

Philippines’ Boracay, Palawan and Cebu named among world’s best islands

October 24, 2016


A boat at the dock in Palawan Island, which is located in the Philippines. PHOTO: PALAWANISLAND.ORG

(PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER) – Three famous tourist destinations in the Philippines were named as some of the world’s best islands, according to an award-winning travel magazine.

Boracay Island, known globally for its powdery white sands and azure waters, topped Conde Nast Traveler’s 2016 Readers’ Choice Awards.

Palawan, which topped the annual list for the past two years, clinched second spot, while Cebu landed in fifth place.

The magazine described Boracay as an “itty-bitty island as close to a tropical idyll as you’ll find in South-east Asia, with gentle coastlines and transporting sunsets”.

“Add in a thriving nightlife scene, and you have one of the top tourist spots in the region,” it added.

Conde Nast Traveler also tagged Palawan as home of the Puerto Princesa Underground River, one of the new seven wonders of nature.

“Palawan’s natural wonder is one of the longest underground rivers in the world, traveling five miles through a subterranean cave system. Guided boat tours take visitors down a portion of the waterway, where karsts, natural rock formations created by dissolving limestone, loom in every direction,” it said regarding the attraction.

Cebu was also touted for its beaches, saying it was “not as wild as Phuket in Thailand” but “more personal, with plenty of up-and-coming restaurants and shopping”.

The Philippine destinations bested other islands on the list including Vancouver Island in Canada, Turks and Caicos, Bermuda, Crete in Greece, Bali in Indonesia, Mykonos in Greece, St Barts, Cayman Islands, Sardinia in Italy, Tahiti in French Polynesia, Ibiza in Spain, Santorini in Greece, British Virgin Islands, St John, USVI and St Lucia.

Palawan, Boracay, and Cebu were also voted as three of the world’s best islands by readers of Travel + Leisure earlier this year.

Why Go To Church? Many people looking for “meaning” and a sense of peace

October 12, 2015


Church attendance is down, but those who go are more devout. Here’s what draws them.

St. Bartholomew’s Church, commonly called St. Bart’s, is a historic Episcopal parish founded in January 1835, and located on the east side of Park Avenue between 50th and 51st Street in Midtown Manhattan, in New York City.

By Mary Beth McCauley
Christian Science Monitor

It could be hard to make your way to pray at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan on Sunday mornings. There’s the distraction of New York City pulling you elsewhere – the pace, the intensity, the famousness of it all. Then there are the thoughtful, sometimes vital, diversions of the St. Bart’s community itself: the outdoor cafe, the homeless shelter, the Thomas Merton books in the lobby. There are invitations to programs ranging from mindful eating to Bible study, yoga, and tai chi.  Church attendance is down, but those who go are more devout. Here’s what draws them.

Amid these distractions, hundreds nevertheless do find their way to pray on Sunday mornings at the imposing complex on Park Avenue. They filter into the vast space, gradually replacing the tourists who have been tiptoeing down the side aisles, taking pictures of the dark Byzantine interior. Soon, richly vested clergy, cross bearers, torch holders, and choir members begin making their way up the center aisle – in an entrance procession 30-strong.

The congregation knows its job: Sit, stand, recite familiar prayers in between the Scripture readings, sermon, and announcements. Pass the collection plate. Periodically, in Latin and English, the legendary St. Bart’s choir leads a hymn, sometimes in a crystalline a cappella. Finally, the worshipers’ own moment seems to arrive, as row by row they stand and slowly make their way forward to the communion rail. They are of all races, men and women, old and young, singles and couples, families with carefully dressed, well-behaved children in tow.

“I don’t think it’s just the desire to have prayers answered that brings people to church,” says the Rev. F.M. Stallings Jr., recently retired rector of the church. “I think people do want to come for a sense of peace.”

The tableau on Sundays at St. Bart’s symbolizes an important reality about religion in America: It is far from dead, even though it may not always seem that way.

While headlines often decry the “dechurching of America,” and experts talk about the country becoming more secular, like Europe, people are going to church – and embracing religion – in numbers that defy popular perceptions.

True, recent figures from the Pew Research Center show that 35 percent of Millennials – adults born between 1981 and 1996 – identify as “nones,” saying they are atheists or agnostics, or have no religious affiliation. And, yes, a host of other studies have, over the years, noted a similar drop in religious attendance in the United States, especially among the young. Many mainstream denominations, too, have been closing or consolidating churches.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor

But, experts note, America is far from becoming a churchless nation. On any given Sabbath, for instance, some 4 out of 10 Americans will make their way to churches and synagogues, mosques and temples – a number that hasn’t fluctuated dramatically in the past half century.

Gallup polls, along with other data, seem to support religion’s resilience. More than 81 percent of Americans say they identify with a specific religion or denomination; 78 percent say religion is a very or fairly important part of their lives; 57 percent believe that religion is able to solve today’s problems.

Organized religion this summer ranked fourth among 15 American institutions in the degree of public confidence it inspired – ahead of the presidency, the US Supreme Court, and medicine, behind small business, the military, and (perhaps surprisingly) police. The company’s data also suggest that the secularization trend may have slowed if not halted.

In fact, Gallup reported recently that while attendance may be off, Americans are no less likely now to attend religious services than they were in the 1940s and ’50s. This was the period just before the über-religious years of the mid-1950s and early ’60s, when Americans, in lockstep, got married, had children, and went to church. The lesson, says Frank Newport, editor in chief at Gallup, whose company has tracked church attendance for 70 years, is that religious worship in the US is cyclical.

Forecasts for the future don’t portend a religious resurgence in the US, but neither do they predict a faith-free culture. Pew predicts a drop in the number of Americans identifying as Christian, for instance, from three-quarters of the population today to two-thirds in 2050. Many consider that a slim decline over 35 years – especially in a material age and when society no longer exerts the pressure it once did to believe in God.

More than anything, some experts argue that the US isn’t becoming more secular as much as it’s becoming more devout – a country with fewer followers but ones who are more serious about their faith.

“There’s a greater willingness now to say ‘I’m not religious,’ ” says Christian Smith, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame and co-principal investigator of the noted National Study of Youth and Religion. As a result, he adds, “for people who do continue to practice religion, [their communities] tend to be made up of the seriously committed, not just those swept along by obligation.”

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Meghan Cokeley’s devotion to church today is rooted in a religious experience she had when she was younger. Brought up Roman Catholic, she says she had a kind of “conversion” when she was 18 years old.

As she learned about St. Francis of Assisi, who chose a life of poverty over his family’s riches, she began to feel “restless” about her own, less-than-
serious lifestyle. When visiting the town of Assisi during a senior year high school trip to Italy, she recalled, “At the tomb of St. Francis, I had my first experience of the palpable love of God. I was so deeply moved I wept.”

She came home, switched majors from chemistry to theology, and 18 years later is now director of evangelization at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Such an “encounter with God” is not rare, she believes, but each “looks different,” some dramatic, some subtle.

A personal religious experience often drives people to worship. “A lot of people claim to have had a moment of access to a divine being,” a feeling that God is holding them or comforting them or similarly is present with them on a personal level, says Christian Miller, who teaches philosophy of religion at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. “It can lead the person to respond by practicing religion.”

Many other factors bring worshipers to the pews as well. Habit. Social expectations. Upbringing. Guilt. Many also come seeking a sense of purpose, a feeling of community, meaning, self-improvement, assurance that one’s faith is true, and answers to questions about death and the afterlife. Studies say worshipers tend to find all this in religion, as well as peace and joy, security, and freedom from guilt over past wrongdoing.

Ideologically, Professor Miller adds, liberals tend to look for a sense of community in religion, while conservatives want to live in alignment with the Bible, which they believe is true. Even in the South, fear of hell is less a factor in attending church than it used to be, while there is more yearning for meaning and purpose.

People who go to services regularly are more likely to be older, female, and Southern. They have a better education and higher economic status than those who don’t, says Mr. Newport. What’s uncertain, he says, is whether the less-practicing Millennials, who thus far are putting off having children, will marry, have kids, and follow their predecessors into the sanctuary.

If they do, they’ll find a vibrant religious landscape. There are churches like St. Bart’s, where parishioners recite the ancient Nicene Creed, affirming beliefs they share with many of their fellow Christians. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the nondenominational churches, which have undergone the greatest growth in recent decades. Unanchored by a shared creed and often reliant on a single charismatic leader, these churches can adapt to changing interests quickly, evolving their theology as they go. Some of these ministries are stadium-size megachurches; others are storefront operations. Still others offer religion via radio, television, or the Internet.

With the shedding of widespread traditions and “shalt nots,” creeds – when recited – may be said with less fervor these days, and the denominations’ books of rules (where they exist) may be stored in a closet.

As Cynthia Bond Hopson, a Methodist from Lebanon, Tenn., puts it: “Certainly hell is real, but I’d much rather focus on God’s grace.” Of the traditional sanctions against things such as alcohol, tobacco, and dancing, she quips, “I never got the memo.” Competition from the nondenominational movement has made mainline Protestantism, which as recently as the mid-20th century banned contraception, softer across the board with its demands, say observers. Some believe that trends such as the move toward Calvinist theology among evangelical Protestants may have developed in response. Ironically, as standards drop, says Mr. Smith, religions that place high demands on their members are gaining in appeal.

This is causing a conundrum for leaders of that less-fervent mainline Protestant middle, whose attempts to appeal to everyone may wind up making the religion itself less compelling.

“Everybody tells me to be a nice person,” says Smith, but people want more from their religion than the kind of answers they can get anywhere.

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In Gladstone, Ore., Dennis Dalling has long been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the rapidly growing religions. “One of the hallmarks of the church is that family is the most important element of society,” says Mr. Dalling, the father of 6, grandfather of 29, and great-grandfather of 33.

Dalling says the decision he and his wife, Ramona, made 64 years ago to become “sealed for all eternity” by marrying in a temple ceremony, as opposed to a less demanding and more permissive civil ceremony, “has been the supreme blessing of our lives,” removing the option for divorce and strengthening the couple in demanding times. Mormons tithe 10 percent of their earnings; eschew alcohol, tobacco, and coffee and tea; and are expected to live a morally upright, honest life.

Sometimes what brings the worshiper into the fold is not religious belief at all, says Rabbi David Teutsch, former president of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and now head of its Center for Jewish Ethics. “Everyone is battered by a culture of increasing materialism and isolation,” he says. “There is a lot of meaning-seeking going on in America, and Judaism has a lot to say about that.”

According to Mr. Teutsch, middle-ground Jewish congregations tend to appeal to seekers through interest in one of three areas at first: spiritual life, social action, or community. The longer that members stay with the synagogue the more they participate in all facets, he says.

It’s that way for Methodist LaNella Smith from Durham, N.C., too. She says that for her, church is part worship, part song, and part social justice work, through her affiliation with United Methodist Women. She begins each day praying quietly with a devotional text, “a constant reminder that God is with me, no matter what is going on,” she says.

Her keenest sense of God, she says, came the day of her grandmother’s funeral. “I was very, very, very close to her.” That day she went alone, early, to the funeral home. She recalled simply, “I had a conversation with my grandmother. I had a conversation with God.” She sang the beloved hymn “Blessed Assurance” and went home. “I felt so much better in my soul, after that time alone, me believing in that ‘blessed assurance,’ ” she recalls. “God assured me everything was going to be OK.”

If the great hymns of American worship provide comfort to Ms. Smith, so the great traditions of Judaism delight and direct Mitchell Marcus, professor of computer science, linguistics, and artificial intelligence at the University of Pennsylvania. Having been brought up on “Judaism lite,” Mr. Marcus saw in college the “tremendous value” the great faith traditions had for his non-Jewish friends.

“I realized there are a number of these ancient traditions around, and [learning] your own seemed like a really good place to start,” he says. Thus began a love affair with Judaism that continues. “Sabbath for me has always been very, very important,” he notes. While he worships in a Conservative synagogue, he incorporates many Orthodox Jewish practices into his own life. He loves studying his sacred texts while awaiting a Sabbath visit from his daughter and her family.

In his form of voluntary Orthodoxy, he keeps kosher at home and has Friday night meals only at home, or at the homes of his children or his friends. “For me, observance is a spiritual practice rather than a ‘have-to,’ ” he says.

Structure is a tough sell in the free-for-all of American culture, but for some believers it illuminates the journey. Muslim Sarah Ali, a young economist from Washington, D.C., had a “moderate” religious upbringing, one she believes allows her to enjoy her faith all the more as an adult. Not only did she avoid the teenage temptation to rebel against too-strict parents, but because she needed to study much of Islam on her own, she feels she better appreciates her religious traditions.

“I fast for Allah, not for the whole world,” she says. Even as some of her Muslim friends eschew the hijab – or headscarf – hoping to increase their chances of finding a husband, Ms. Ali wears one. She tries to say her prayers (five times a day) at home, but sometimes she needs to find a mosque or even a store dressing room for prayer. She prays formally, in Arabic, then includes her own petitions.

Typical of these were her prayers for a better work situation, which she says were answered. After praying about it, she waited, and eventually got five new job offers. The scrutiny accorded Muslims after 9/11 is never far from her thoughts. “I have to be very vigilant with how I conduct myself in public,” says Ali, who was born in Texas. “It frustrates me, but it’s part of life for me.”

While some people today may get their moral education from YouTube and Twitter, many others see social media as a superficial spiritual guide. Theological nuance can’t be had in 140 characters, says Emily Sullivan, a Millennial who notes that religions need to distinguish themselves from upbeat Oprah-like sentiment.

The Pennsylvania stay-at-home mother of two practices what some dub “John Paul II Catholicism,” an observant, orthodox approach to the faith gaining popularity among some young people. Working part time from home, speaking and writing content for the World Meeting of Families, she pushes back against what she sees as a mind-set that insists that a male-only priesthood demeans women, and that a sexually permissive culture frees them. She believes that the theology underlying the morality of her church – which addresses divorce, abortion, contraception, and restriction of sex to marriage – has been poorly taught for generations and as a result is misunderstood. She readily admits she and her husband view themselves as “countercultural.”

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Every age seems to put religion in the middle of the latest cultural controversy. A flashpoint for many today is same-sex marriage. But while a public debate rages, individual believers are pursuing their faith in their own way.

New York art dealer Tod Roulette, for example, who is gay and black, found his place at the table at Harlem’s St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, which is a departure from the lively but strict Pentecostal congregation of his Kansas childhood. His Kansas congregation reviled homosexuality, and still does, while at St. Philip’s, Mr. Roulette not only sings in the choir, prays the rosary, and serves as Eucharistic minister, but he also participates in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ministry.

He’s looking for an app to help him recite the Holy Office prayers of the priesthood, practicing for the day when he might become a monk. On his most recent trip home to Kansas, the Pentecostal clergy were less judgmental with him than normal, he says, and he has developed some insight into their theology. “I can see [being against homosexuality] if you’re wedded to a certain translation of the Bible,” he says. “There’s no way around that. I can support that.”

Ms. Sullivan’s objection to same-sex marriage, she says, has nothing to do with individuals, but rather is rooted in a Catholic theological principle that limits sex to within marriage, that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and that applies to single people “across the board.” She makes sure her gay friends don’t feel “Emily’s coming after me,” when they talk religion. By sticking to ideas, rather than passing judgment, she says she has been able to remain friends with a gay couple even though she didn’t attend their wedding for religious reasons.

In Oregon, one of Dalling’s granddaughters is marrying a woman this year, prompting him to stretch his Mormon thinking. Though he senses that the marriage “thwarts the plan of salvation in a way,” he and his wife have decided to attend the wedding and to love the granddaughter’s spouse as much as they do the rest of the family. “We try to be in the world but not be of it,” Dalling says. “But we can’t isolate ourselves anymore.”

The current rise of atheism – exemplified by a range of figures, including writer Richard Dawkins, author of the 2006 book “The God Delusion”; outspoken talk show host Bill Maher; and British scientist Stephen Hawking – highlights another enduring clash: that between science and religion. It suggests reason and religion are perpetually in conflict.

But that’s not necessarily the case. People at the University of Pennsylvania think Marcus’s PhD students, smart as they are, must be avowedly secular. But the professor finds the opposite to be true. His students, regardless of faith, have in fact been religiously curious, often very devout, and eager to talk about their beliefs, he says, and he encourages it.

The many wrongs associated with religion over the millenniums don’t negate its value, he believes. “Being human is hard and is challenging,” he says. “Religion holds up for us an ideal behavior and ideal practices to strive for.”

Samantha Evans, a newly ordained Presbyterian pastor doing a residency at Philadelphia’s Broad Street Ministry, was herself once a physics major bent on saving the world through biomedical research. After college, she followed a vague hunch and decided to apply to the Princeton Theological Seminary. For her, the limitations of science often bolster religious faith.

“At the end of the day, I think a lot of people are seeking understanding,” she says. Ministering to them requires stepping away from the need for answers and finding “room for ambiguity.”

For Mr. Stallings – you can call him “Buddy” – his time at St. Bart’s caps off a career’s worth of working on Sundays. His ministering took him from San Francisco to Mississippi to 9/11-ravaged Staten Island.

Despite his love for liturgy, he thought he might take a well-deserved break from Sunday services when he retired. Read The New York Times. Linger over coffee. But after hanging up his vestments in May, when he finally had his Sunday mornings to himself, he was surprised to find himself back in church.

“I went. And I will go again,” says the erudite priest, who has a slight Southern drawl and a full New York skepticism. Though as a priest administering communion he felt “more connected to others than anywhere else,” he has no desire to preach again, no desire except to be back at the communion rail on the receiving side. To Stallings, what happens on Sundays is simple:

“I don’t think it has to do with correct belief, not with orthodoxy but with people joining together – the sights and sounds of people getting up from their pews and going to communion … there’s something so common about that desire to come and receive.”