Irma’s victims in the Caribbean brace for another hurricane

This photo provided by Caribbean Buzz shows the destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Irma Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in the U.S. Virgin Islands The death toll from Hurricane Irma has risen to 22 as the storm continues its destructive path through the Caribbean. The dead include 11 on St. Martin and St. Barts, four in the U.S. Virgin Islands and four in the British Virgin Islands. There was also one each in Barbuda, Anguilla, and Barbados. The toll is expected to rise as rescuers reach some of the hardest-hit areas. (Caribbean Buzz via AP)

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua (AP) — Thousands of Irma victims across the Caribbean fought desperately to find shelter or escape their storm-blasted islands altogether Friday as another hurricane following close behind threatened to add to their misery.

Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday, and with its 160 mph (260 kph) winds battering Cuba and taking aim at the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people, the death toll in the storm’s wake across the Caribbean climbed to 22.

Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the eastern part of Cuba reported no major casualties or damage by mid-afternoon after Irma rolled north of the Caribbean’s biggest islands. Many residents and tourists farther east 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 smashed homes, shops, roads and schools; knocked out power, water and telephone service; trapped thousands of tourists; and stripped trees of their leaves, leaving an eerie, blasted-looking landscape littered with sheet metal and splintered lumber.

gettyimages 843488960 Irma’s victims in the Caribbean brace for another hurricane
FAJARDO, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 06: Debris is seen during a storm surge near the Puerto Chico Harbor during the passing of Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017 in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. The category 5 storm is expected to pass over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands today, and make landfall in Florida by the weekend. (Photo by Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)

On Friday, looting and gunshots were reported on St. Martin, and a curfew was imposed in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Many of Irma’s victims fled their islands on ferries and fishing boats for fear of Hurricane Jose, a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds that could punish some places 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.

preview v00726 Irma’s victims in the Caribbean brace for another hurricane
This photo provided by Caribbean Buzz shows the destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Irma Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in the U.S. Virgin Islands The death toll from Hurricane Irma has risen to 22 as the storm continues its destructive path through the Caribbean. The dead include 11 on St. Martin and St. Barts, four in the U.S. Virgin Islands and four in the British Virgin Islands. There was also one each in Barbuda, Anguilla, and Barbados. The toll is expected to rise as rescuers reach some of the hardest-hit areas. (Caribbean Buzz via AP)

On Barbuda, a coral island rising a mere 125 feet (38 meters) above sea level, authorities ordered an evacuation of all 1,400 people to neighboring Antigua, where Stevet Jeremiah was reunited with one son and made plans to bury another.

Jeremiah, who sells lobster and crab to tourists, was huddled in her wooden home on Barbuda early Wednesday with her partner and their 2- and 4-year-old boys as Irma ripped open their metal roof and sent the ocean surging into the house.

Her younger son, Carl Junior Francis, was swept away. Neighbors found his body after sunrise.

“Two years old. He just turned 2, the 17th, last month. Just turned 2,” she repeated. Her first task, she said, would be to organize his funeral. “That’s all I can do. There is nothing else I can do.”

The dead included 11 on St. Martin and St. Barts, four in the U.S. Virgin Islands, four in the British Virgin Islands and one each on Anguilla and Barbuda.

Also, a 16-year-old junior professional surfer drowned Tuesday in Barbados while surfing large swells generated by an approaching Irma.

preview v00661 Irma’s victims in the Caribbean brace for another hurricane
In this Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, photo, damage is left after Hurricane Irma hit Barbuda. Hurricane Irma battered the Turks and Caicos Islands early Friday as the fearsome Category 5 storm continued a rampage through the Caribbean that has killed a number of people, with Florida in its sights. (AP Photo/Anika E. Kentish)

Many victims picked through the rubble of what had once been Caribbean dream getaway homes.

On St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, power lines and towers were toppled, a water and sewage treatment plant was heavily damaged, and the harbor was in ruins, along with hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses.

Opera singer Laura Strickling and her husband, Taylor, moved to St. Thomas three years ago from Washington so he could take a job as a lawyer. They rented a top-floor apartment with a stunning view of the turquoise water of Megan’s Bay, which is surrounded by low hills covered by trees.

Strickling huddled with her husband and their year-old daughter in a basement apartment along with another family as the storm raged for 12 hours.

“The noise was just deafening. It was so loud we thought the roof was gone. The windows were boarded up, so it was hot and we had no AC, no power,” she said. She said she and the three other adults “were terrified but keeping it together for the babies.”

Strickling, who used to visit her husband in Afghanistan when he worked there, added: “I’ve had to sit through a Taliban gunfight, and this was scarier.”

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