Hurricane Irma continues to strengthen as it moves west through the Caribbean and closer to Haiti. The last major hurricane to hit Haiti left hundreds dead, and the Haitian government is already making preparations to make sure that does not happen again. Irma is projected to reach Hispaniola, the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, by Thursday.
As 2:00 p.m. AST, the U.S. National oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a new public advisory, and reports that Irma is still a Category 5 hurricane. It is moving at 14 mph (22 km/h) and is 180 miles (290 km) east of Antigua. The NOAA warns that it could still be a Category 5 by the time it reaches the northern Leeward Islands, which includes Anguilla, St. Martin, Barbuda, Antigua, Montserrat and Guadeloupe. Puerto Rico is also expecting a direct hit from the storm.
The NOAA adds:
Irma is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 8 to 12 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 18 inches across the northern Leeward Islands. Irma is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 4 to 10 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches across northeast Puerto Rico and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, and amounts of 2 to 4 inches over southwest Puerto Rico, the southern Leeward Islands, and Saint Croix. This rainfall may cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.
Part of Haiti is also in a Hurricane Watch, “from the northern border with the Dominican Republic to Le Mole St. Nicholas,” according to NOAA. A Hurricane Warnings means:
A Hurricane Warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area. A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds, conditions that make outside preparations difficult or dangerous. In this case, for some of easternmost islands, the hurricane conditions are expected within the next 12 to 24 hours. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.
There is also a Tropical Storm watch in effect for Haiti “from south of Le Mole St. Nicholas to Port-Au-Prince.” According to the NOAA, this means that “tropical storm conditions are
possible within the watch area, generally within 48 hours.”
The Haitian Government began preparing for the storm on Monday, when Irma was still a Category 3 storm, reports La Nouvelliste. The government issued a “yellow level” pre-alert warning. Jerry Chandler, the head of the Civil Protection Directorate told the newspaper that they have begun moving the necessary equipment to areas that will be hardest hit by the storm on the northern coast.
“The IRMA Center could cross the Lesser Antilles on Tuesday,” the Hydrometeorological Unit of Haiti (UHM) said in a statement. “The system should then continue to approach Haiti, retaining its characteristics of major hurricane adding “IRMA hurricane should place the country under the threat of storm winds in about three days. Heavy storms are expected to fall on the northern part of the country before gradually becoming widespread. A stormy sea could overwhelm much of the northern coast of the country.”
Hurricanes can be catastrophic for Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. Since the devastating 2010 earthquake, the country has remained vulnerable. Reuters reported that the death toll from last year’s Hurricane Matthew reached 1,000. Authorities even started using mass graves. Despite sharing the same island, only four deaths in the Dominican Republic were blamed on the Matthew.