Recovery

Irma Caused 129 Deaths, More Than $53 Billion in Damages, Hurricane Center Concludes

It underscores the wide swath of damage left behind by the massive storm, which brought wind and storm surge to much of Florida last September.

by Dinah Voyles Pulver, The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla. / March 13, 2018

(TNS) - After six months of chasing down and documenting the death and destruction Hurricane Irma left behind from the eastern Caribbean to the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Center released its report on Monday.

It underscores the wide swath of damage left behind by the massive storm, which brought wind and storm surge to much of Florida last September.

At least 129 deaths are attributed to the storm, either directly or indirectly. Irma's powerful storm surge, seas, winds and flooding were directly responsible for 44 deaths, concluded the team of three hurricane specialists who wrote the report, John Cangialosi, Andrew Latto and Robbie Berg. At least another 85 deaths were indirectly related to the storm.

Irma left a wake of damage exceeding $53 billion. Damages in the United States were estimated at $50 billion, making Irma the fifth-costliest hurricane to strike the United States, after Katrina in 2005, Harvey in 2017, Maria in 2017 and Sandy in 2012.

"Wow," said Jim Judge, Volusia County Emergency Management Director, after hearing the totals compiled by the Hurricane Center's staff.

"It was a big storm, a record breaker for sure," Judge said. However, like emergency managers often do, he pointed out the storm could have been "a lot worse," if it had made landfall in a more urban area or at a higher intensity.

Irma blew through Volusia and Flagler counties on Sept. 10 and 11, causing impacts to 7,407 properties and an estimated $451 million in damages.

Irma made a total of seven landfalls after leaving the African coast as a tropical wave on Aug. 27.

Where were those landfalls? Barbuda, St. Martin and Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, Little Inagua Island in the Bahamas, Cayo Romano, Cuba, Cudjoe Key in the Florida Keys and Marco Island on the Southwest Florida coast. Barbuda took the full brunt of the storm, which destroyed 95 percent of its structures. Most Barbudans left for Antigua, with those who remained leaving when Hurricane Jose threatened. Their departure left the island uninhabited for the first time in 300 years, the Center's report states. Few residents had returned as of February.

Where were the deaths in the United States? Of the seven direct hurricane-related deaths in the United States, four were in Florida, including two in Duval County, one in Manatee County and one in Broward County. Two deaths occurred in Georgia and one in South Carolina. Another 80 deaths in the state — including Dorothy "Dee" Giddins, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Daytona Beach — were considered indirectly related to Irma. Most of the deaths were attributed to generators, chainsaws and electrocutions. The report also noted the 14 deaths that occurred in a Broward County nursing home after the power failed.

How strong was the storm at its peak? Winds of 155 knots, about 178.37 mph, for about 18 hours between Sept. 5 and Sept. 6, with a barometric pressure of 914 millibars.

What were the peak winds reported? An unofficial gust of 199 mph on St. Barthelemy in the Leeward Islands was the highest reported. In Florida, a 141 mph gust was reported at the Naples Pier. Locally, a weather station at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University reported a wind gust of about 80.5 mph.

What about the waves and storm surge? The Center estimates the surge was at least 8 feet above ground level on parts of the island of Barbuda and on parts of Big Pine Key. In Cuba, in the Ciego de Avila province, the sea rose up to 11.5 feet and penetrated the island at least a half mile inland. At Cayo Romano, where Irma made landfall, observed wave heights were 26 feet.

Along the East Coast, storm surge was estimated at 3 to 5 feet from Cape Canaveral to South Carolina, but the report makes particular note of the "significant flooding" along the St. Johns River, thanks to a combination of storm surge and rainfall. Even though the surge was lower than that of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, the timing of the storm at high tide caused water levels in Charleston to top the heights reported during Matthew.

Where did the most rain fall? The Cuban Meteorological Institute reported 23.9 inches in Topes de Colante. In Florida, St. Lucie County reported 21.66 inches of rain between September 9 and 12. Locally, 11.82 inches of rainfall was reported in DeLand and 9.10 of rain was reported in Palm Coast.

How many tornadoes were reported? 25, 21 of those in Florida and four in South Carolina. An EF-2 tornado touched down just south of Volusia County in Mims and just north of Flagler County in Crescent Beach.

What about the Center's own statistics? A review of the forecast errors for track and intensity revealed the official track errors were roughly 30 to 40% lower than the previous 5-year average, however the Center also states that based on the models, Irma was more difficult to forecast for track and intensity than most storms.

Between Sept. 5 and 11, the Center generated 98 million impressions on Twitter and more than 500 million page views. Just prior to Irma's landfall in Florida, the Hurricane Center reported 1 billion hits in one day.

Wind speed, storm surge and rainfall reports in Florida

Read the entire report here: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/data/tcr/AL112017_Irma.pdf

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©2018 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.

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