People in south Florida have been urged by the Miami weather service to urgently seek safety ahead of devastating Hurricane Irma making landfall at the weekend.
Florida flights and cruises have been cancelled as the category five hurricane speeds towards the US mainland after leaving a trail of destruction across a string of Caribbean islands.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose is heading towards parts of the Caribbean already battered by Irma.
The US National Hurricane Centre says Jose – a category 3 hurricane – “is expected to be near the northern Leeward Islands on Saturday”.
This covers Barbuda, Antigua and Anguilla, the islands first hit by Irma.
Irma killed at least 14 people as it barrelled through Barbuda, St Martin, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands with winds of up to 175mph.
An estimated 1.2 million people affected by Irma, but that figure could rise to as much as 26 million, according to the Red Cross.
The Turks and Caicos Islands are reported to be at risk of a storm surge with possible waves 20ft higher than usual.
Irma is then projected to move towards the Bahamas. The storm is predicted to reach Cuba, before hitting Florida at the weekend, with the head of the US emergency agency predicting a “truly devastating” impact.
Thousands of tourists from coastal resorts in the exposed part of Cuba have been evacuated.
Irma also caused damage to roofs, flooding and power outages to the northern parts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Latest forecasts say “severe hurricane conditions” are expected to begin to hit the Florida peninsula and Florida Keys late on Saturday.
The Miami weather service warned: “This is a potentially deadly situation. Residents and visitors must now implement emergency safety plans. Preparations to protect life and property should b e completed by Friday night. Take final shelter by early Saturday morning.”
British Airways cancelled a Saturday flight from Gatwick to Fort Lauderdale, one of two flights today from Heathrow to Miami and all flights between London and Miami on Saturday and Sunday. Services to Orlando and Tampa are operated but remain under review while flights to Caribbean islands face alterations.
“We are keeping our flights to other Caribbean islands and northern parts of Florida under review, and we are in regular contact with the airport authorities as the storm moves through the area,” BA said.
Virgin Atlantic warned that its Florida flights are “severely disrupted” after a state of emergency was declared in the state.
“Our flights to and from Orlando and Miami airports are restricted, between Friday 8th September and Monday 11th September,” the airline said
“Because of the widespread disruption to services to and from Florida and the Caribbean, we ask customers to check the status of their flights before they travel to the airport. Please be aware our Disney Springs Check In location will be closed from Saturday 09th September to the 12th September.”
A special assistance team sent by Thomas Cook is in Cuba and the Dominican Republic to support holidaymakers.
Cuban authorities issued an evacuation for Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Santa Maria yesterday morning.
“Our resort teams and our special assistance team are helping our customers with this evacuation to Varadero and Havana and will remain with them throughout the journey,” Thomas Cook said.
“We’re offering free amendments or cancellations for customers travelling to the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Miami and Orlando up to and including Sunday 10 September.
“Due to the unpredictable nature of hurricanes it is unclear what the impact will be in Orlando. We are closely monitoring the situation as it develops.
“The safety of our customers is always our first priority. We continue to monitor this powerful storm and its possible impact on Florida.”
Thomson delayed a Gatwick flight to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic by 48 hours as is planned to depart this morning while a service from Manchester was delayed by 24 hours.
A flight from Gatwick to Varadero in Cuba due to operate yesterday was cancelled.
Thomson flights today, Saturday and Sunday are due to fly as scheduled.
“Customers who are due to travel to Sanford Florida up to and including Sunday 10th September who no longer wish to travel are able to re-book any Florida holiday currently on sale with a £25 per person incentive,” the operator said. “If the new holiday is more expensive customers will be required to cover the difference, and where a holiday is cheaper we will apply a refund.”
“Our experienced team of international reps in resort are supporting our customers in their hotels and we would advise that all customers in the destinations closely follow instructions from our teams and the hotel management at all times.
“We encourage customers due to travel to Florida, Dominican Republic and Cuba in the coming days to check our website regularly for updates.
“The weather conditions are subject to change, however we are monitoring the situation very closely with our resort team and the local authorities in the affected areas and will advise customers of any changes to their holiday plans accordingly.”
Storm Katia, in the Gulf of Mexico, was also upgraded to hurricane status, and a warning was in effect for the coast of the Mexican state of Veracruz.
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