SANTO DOMINGO – The eye of Hurricane Irma, an extremely powerful Category 5 storm, is moving on Thursday north of the Dominican coast, where torrential rains have caused flooding, and in the coming hours it will pass above the northern coast of Haiti, which has still not fully recovered from Hurricane Matthew last year.
Early on Thursday the rain was most intense in Santiago, the country’s second-largest city, where some flooding was registered, as well as in the tourist cities of Puerto Plata, Samana and Punta Cana.
In several towns along the northern and eastern coast, heavy winds and a strong storm surge were also registered, along with downed trees and electric power poles, but so far no injuries or deaths have been reported.
Some 6,800 people have been evacuated due to Irma, the strongest hurricane ever registered in the Atlantic, according to the Emergency Operations Center (COE), which has placed 24 of the country’s 32 provinces on red alert.
Although the storm’s effects, for now, have been somewhat less than had been forecast, authorities have asked the public to remain cautious and have reported that 2,055 homes have been damaged and 10 communities rendered incommunicado.
At a press conference, COE chief Juan Manuel Mendez said that “the worst is not over,” given that when Irma moves near the Turks & Caicos Islands, “the tail is going to practically wrap around the entire national territory” and could cause significant flooding.
The Dominican government, which declared itself to be in permanent session on Monday, has activated a plan to shelter up to 900,000 people and has implemented security and preventive protocols in all hotel complexes, most of them located in Punta Cana, Puerto Plata, Samana and the capital.
Some 7,500 tourists were transferred from hotels located in the country’s east and northeast, the zone most affected by the storm, to others in Santo Domingo and Santiago as a precaution.
The hurricane’s passage is also affecting air traffic with several airlines rescheduling their flights while about 100 flights from the country’s international airports were cancelled altogether, although the airports remain in operation.
Although Haitian authorities have said that they are prepared to respond to the storm, many citizens in that country have complained about a lack of information and access to shelters, many of which reportedly have no water or food.