MIAMI: Florida has ordered 5.6 million people to evacuate as massive Hurricane Irma menaces the southeastern US state, according to its Division of Emergency Management.
Irma regained strength as a Category 5 storm late Friday as it made landfall on the Camaguey Archipelago of Cuba, and is now swirling about 275 miles (440 kilometers) away from Miami packing maximum sustained winds of 160 miles per hour.
Irma is expected to strike the Florida Keys late Saturday and Sunday before moving inland, according to the National Hurricane Center, and many residents have joined a mass exodus amid increasingly dire warnings to leave.
As it roared across the Caribbean the monster storm claimed at least 19 lives, devastating a series of tiny islands like Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin — where 60 percent of homes were wrecked and looting broke out — before slamming into the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Warning that Irma would be worse than Hurricane Andrew — which killed 65 people in 1992 — Florida’s governor Rick Scott had said all of the state’s 20.6 million inhabitants should be prepared to evacuate.
Nuclear plants shut
Electricity generator Florida Power & Light said on Thursday it will shut its two nuclear power plants before Irma comes ashore as a very powerful hurricane.
FPL, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc, generates enough power for about 1.9 million homes at the Turkey Point and St. Lucie plants, which are both along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, about 20 feet (6 meters) above sea level.
“We will safely shut down these nuclear plants well in advance of hurricane-force winds, and we’ve finalized plans for that shutdown,” FPL spokesman Rob Gould told a news conference.
The company will adjust the plans as necessary, “depending upon the path of the storm,” Gould said. He would not comment on exactly when the plants would be taken down or how long they could be shut.
FPL says it has invested $3 billion to protect its electricity grid since 2005 when the last major hurricane damaged power facilities in Florida. But no grid is hurricane-proof, and if Irma stays on its path, many FPL customers will lose power, Gould said.
The company, which serves about 10 million power customers across nearly half of Florida, may have to physically rebuild parts of the power system, Gould said. This could take weeks or longer “if Irma’s worst fears are realized,” he said. – Agencies