CABARET, Haiti – Hurricane Jose, a powerhouse tropical cyclone barreling northwest toward the Caribbean islands already hammered by Irma, is now a “little weaker but still a dangerous Category 4 hurricane,” officials said.
The National Hurricane Center said Saturday morning that Jose’s maximum sustained wind speed is at 145 mph, as the storm churned toward the northern Leeward Islands. That’s down by 10 mph from late Friday, when officials said the hurricane was just shy of a Category 5 storm. Forecasters, however, cautioned that “some fluctuation in intensity, up or down, could occur during the next 24 hours.”
A hurricane warning is in effect for Sint Maarten, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, also known as St. Barts.
Barbuda, which had been obliterated by Irma, has been downgraded to a tropical storm warning, the hurricane center said. The islands of Anguilla, Saba and St. Eustatius are also under a tropical storm warning.
Antigua and the British Virgin Islands are under a tropical storm watch.
Once Jose passes the northern Leeward Islands, Jose is projected to hook north and steadily lose muscle. It will, however, likely throw off tropical-storm strength weather felt Saturday night in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, which also sustained heavy damage during Irma.
The alarming announcement comes as military personnel and emergency responders from the United States and Europe rush to aid those still reeling from Irma, which roared across the same region as a Category 5 storm Wednesday.
On the devastated island of Barbuda, authorities and private tour operators scrambled to evacuate the remainder of its 1,600 residents, taking them to emergency shelters on nearby Antigua.
Michael Joseph, president of the Red Cross in Antigua and Barbuda, described Barbuda as though it were a tropical ghost town of broken buildings and fallen trees.
“It’s uninhabitable. I would literally say that 100 percent of the infrastructure is gone. Light, water, communication, it’s a total blackout,” Joseph said.
There was only one fatality on the island – a 2-year-old boy identified Friday as Carl Junior Francis. He was found by neighbors the day prior, having been swept away by storm surge as Irma pounded the island and ripped off the roof of his family’s home, the Associated Press reported.
On Antigua, evacuees were hunkered down and preparing for Jose’s possible hit.
“People are worried, when they see images of Barbuda, that it could be Antigua next,” Joseph said.
In Anguilla, part of the British West Indies, Irma’s fury left homes and businesses shattered across the 16-mile island. Local officials pleaded with residents Friday to take all precautions ahead of Jose to ensure their survival, and they encouraged people to quickly clear existing debris so it could be removed and battened down, as not to pose a threat during the next wave of dangerous weather.
With telecommunication services severed, police traveled the island’s neighborhoods Friday to relay what information they had about Jose’s path, said Patrick Lynch, who operates Roy’s Bayside Grill. Reached Friday afternoon via Facebook, he seemed unaware the storm had reached such ferocious strength.
Though badly damaged, the restaurant was planning to open Friday and serve limited lunch and dinner items. “People need a place to go, connect, talk about what has happened and feel normal for an hour or two,” Lynch said, “so we’re going to try and provide that.
In closing, he wrote: “Please keep Anguilla in the news, the destruction is island wide. The people here are good and friendly. … It is a jewel in the Caribbean, and it needs help.”
The U.S. military has dispatched five warships, as well as helicopters, cargo planes, National Guard troops and thousands of pounds of supplies to help hurricane victims.
The military will provide generators, fuel and gas, water-purification systems and tools to clear roads choked with storm debris, according to the U.S. Northern Command. The Army Corps of Engineers sent teams to U.S. territories to help restore electricity, and National Guard personnel were activated to help with evacuations and search-and-rescue efforts.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency spoke of a “complete power/communications collapse” in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but people trapped there have become frustrated and despondent.
Amy Larson, who runs a charter-boat business in the U.S. Virgin Islands, said she has been in Florida as her husband weathered Irma’s wrath on St. John. In tears, she said, “People are very concerned. They want to get off the island. They need supplies. They don’t feel like anybody is giving them any sort of attention.”
France and the Netherlands also moved to respond to some of Irma’s worst destruction on St. Martin, an island they share, and St. Barts, a French overseas territory. The French government deployed 455 police, military and other personnel on Friday, with double that number expected by Saturday.
The presence was partly to restore public order and combat a wave of looting. Using Guadeloupe as a base, French officials were dispatching military helicopters and civilian aircraft with food, water and medical supplies.
Yet Jose could quickly jeopardize those relief efforts, authorities warned.
“My concern today is that because of Hurricane Jose, we are going to have another period in which transport won’t be operating,” the French health minister, Agnès Buzyn, told French TV. Kenneth Mapp, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, said that Jose’s rain and winds could linger through Sunday or Monday.
At the White House on Friday, President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, indicated the U.S. had begun evacuating American citizens from the French and Dutch sides of St. Martin ahead of Jose.
Gretchen and Peter Bogacz have been hunkered down since Wednesday at St. Martin’s Hotel L’Esplanade. With no power or running water, they were desperate for information about whether assistance was on the way.
The couple had been heading back to Florida after celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary on the nearby island of Saba. Once Irma cleared St. Martin, they used their intermittent cell service to text relatives back in the United States for help in figuring out how to get home.
But with the airport seriously damaged, there was no way out.
“Now it seems we are trapped on this island,” Gretchen Bogacz wrote in a text message to The Post Friday afternoon. “Food is okay for now but will be getting low in a few days. Doesn’t help to know another … hurricane is heading this way.”
In the British Virgin Islands, residents said they lacked information on aid and relief efforts. Communications were mostly down and many roads were blocked with vehicles, telephone poles, metal roof material and other debris.
Freeman Rogers, editor of the weekly BVI Beacon newspaper and a resident of Road Town, the territory’s capital, said that people at shelters were running low on food and water, clean clothes and medical supplies. He described a sense of frustration about the response by the British government. Prime Minister Theresa May has said that British military personnel have been working “round the clock” to provide relief to the battered islands.
Rogers said residents were most concerned about whether Hurricane Jose would cause further damage.
“People don’t have roofs,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’d be really rough if we got hit with another big hurricane.”
Irma, meanwhile, continued to push west, making landfall in Cuba around 11 p.m. Eastern Friday and gaining strength on its march toward the Bahamas and, eventually, Florida.
The Cuban government moved hundreds of thousands of people away from cities and towns along the coast in preparation for Irma, including some 36,000 tourists from hotels and beach resorts that are likely to be pounded.
While Havana is expected to be spared the worst of Irma’s wrath, cities such as Ciego de Avila and Santa Clara in the island’s central provinces appear at risk of significant damage. State media showed images Friday of soldiers and Cuban civil defense brigades moving residents into shelters.
The government said it had prepared at least 39 caves for use as emergency shelters. Children and elderly residents could be seen in them, eating sandwiches and snacks in the near-darkness.
“People are being quite orderly in terms of leaving their homes and going to safer shelters,” said Richard Paterson, the Cuba representative for Care International in Havana.
And as the rains diminished over vulnerable Haiti, residents and aid organizations began to assess the damage.
In the city of Cabaret, 16 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince, Miracle Lafontant, 82, wearily exited her inundated home midday Friday in a ripped and muddied white nightgown.
A devout Christian, she’s a rice farmer who has taken in three orphans – including a teenage girl who lost her mother last year in Hurricane Matthew.
“I was in bed, and I heard, ‘Mommy, wake up, the water is coming in!’ ” Lafontant said. “I got out of bed, but before I could get out the door, it was already up to here,” she said, indicating her upper abdomen.
Behind her home, fields of banana trees and sugar cane obscured rows of flooded houses.
“The storm, she took all my church clothes, ruined,” Lafontant said. “What am I going to wear to church now?”
“But I’m not scared. I am never scared,” she said. “The Lord Jesus Christ was there with me last night.”