Caribbean residents left reeling over Irma’s destruction

CAIBARIEN, Cuba (AP) — A deadly Hurricane Irma scraped Cuba’s northern coast Friday on a course toward Florida, leaving in its wake a ravaged string of Caribbean resort islands strewn with splintered lumber, corrugated metal and broken concrete.

The death toll stood at 21 and was expected to rise as rescuers reached some of the hardest-hit areas.

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And a new danger lay on the horizon to the east: Hurricane Jose, a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds that could punish some of the devastated areas all over again this weekend.

“I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to know that further damage is imminent,” said Inspector Frankie Thomas of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda.

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Irma weakened from a Category 5 to a still-fearsome Category 4 on Friday morning with winds of 155 mph (250 kph).

The hurricane smashed homes, schools, stores, roads and boats on Wednesday and Thursday as it rolled over islands long known as turquoise-water playgrounds of the rich, including St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Anguilla.

It knocked out power, water and telephone service, trapped thousands of tourists and stripped the lush green trees of leaves, leaving an eerie, blasted-looking landscape. Authorities reported looting and gunfire in St. Martin, and a curfew was imposed in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In heavily damaged Barbuda, Stevet Jeremiah’s 2-year-old son was swept to his death after the hurricane ripped the roof off her house and filled it with water.

“There was so much water beating past us. We had to crawl to get to safety. Crawl,” she said. “I have never seen anything like this in my life, in all the years I experienced hurricanes. And I don’t ever, ever, ever want to see something like this again.”

She added: “I have nothing. Not even an ID to say my name. Nothing. House gone. The only thing you see is the foundation.”

The crisis was a glimpse of what could lie ahead early Sunday for Florida, which braced for what many fear could be the long-dreaded Big One, with the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million in the crosshairs.

Irma was at one point the most powerful recorded storm in the open Atlantic. It could be one of the most devastating storms ever to hit Florida, a state that has undergone rapid development since the last major hurricane struck a dozen…

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