Update Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
The Tampa International Airport in Florida will close Monday. Accordingly Cayman Airway’s flights to and from Tampa on Monday have been cancelled.
However, Cayman Airways will add flights on Tuesday — The plane will depart Grand Cayman at 11:45 a.m. and arrive in Tampa at 2:30 p.m., and then depart Tampa at 3:25 p.m. and arrive in Grand Cayman at 4:10 p.m.
Here is the news release from Cayman Airways:
“Monday’s Tampa flight canceled due to TPA airport closure
Cayman Airways has been advised that Tampa International Airport (TPA) will now be closed on Monday, September 11, 2017. Therefore, Cayman Airways’ Tampa flights KX200 and KX201 on September 11, 2017 have been cancelled.
Subsequently, Cayman Airways has added the following recovery flights on Tuesday September 12, 2017 for affected passengers: KX3200 will depart Grand Cayman at 11:45am and arrive in Tampa at 2:30pm. On the return, flight KX3201 will depart Tampa at 3:25pm and arrive on Grand Cayman at 4:10pm.
Affected passengers are encouraged to call Cayman Airways Reservations on 345-949-2311 or 1-800-422-9626 to re-confirm their reservations.”
Currently, Irma is battering the northern coast of Cuba. According to Radio Baracoa in Guantanamo in southeastern Cuba, the area is still under alert for flooding, but services such as electricity and water have been restored.
Update Friday at 3:30 p.m.
As Hurricane Irma continues to bear down on the Caribbean, some 700,000 people have been evacuated from the eastern regions of Cuba, according to local media.
Around 36,000 tourists were evacuated from the northeastern and central coastlines to areas of lower risk in Camagüey, Varadero, La Habana, Trinidad and Cienfuegos, Radio Marti said.
The bulk of evacuees come from the provinces of Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Holguín, Las Tunas, Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila. La Habana, Mayabeque, Artemisa, Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus, Cienfuegos and Matanzas are under alert for for high waves, heavy rains and strong winds.
Residents of Pinar del Río and Isles of Pines are advised to remain attentive to weather reports.
Family homes, 45 evacuation centers, 39 caves and seven refuges will be taking in evacuees, Venceremos reported.
Radio Baracoa was already reporting coastal flooding, winds and rains in the Guantanamo Province. The Punta de Maisí weather center in Guantanamo indicated Friday morning that gusts of wind were reaching up to 50 miles per hour.
As the storm moves north, regions of Cuba are expected to bear sustained winds of up to 62 miles per hour on the northern coast, even stronger gusts and waves up to 26 feet, Radio Baracoa said.
Cuba’s Civil Defense has advised residents to limit travel to avoid loss of life. The rail service has been closed since Wednesday and access has been closed to tourist areas such as Cayo Santa María, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo.
Hurricane Irma continued its inexorable march through the Caribbean on Thursday, battering the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and nearing the southeastern edge of the Bahamas. Irma was expected to hit Turks and Caicos late Thursday and to sweep northwest toward Florida by Sunday.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami issued hurricane warnings for Turks and Caicos and the southeastern, central and northwestern range of the Bahamas chain. The Category 5 storm, the strongest in the history of the Atlantic basin, slowed from 185 mph to 175 mph peak winds on Thursday.
By press time Thursday, at least 13 deaths had been reported across islands where Irma had struck.
Puerto Rico reels from damage
Irma passed over Puerto Rico on Wednesday, causing major damage and leaving 68 percent of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s customers in the dark. Seventeen percent of Puerto Rico’s population was without water, according to Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who held a press conference Thursday.
Multiple Puerto Rico residents contacted by the Cayman Compass on Thursday said they could not talk because they needed to conserve the batteries on their cellphones.
Mr. Rossello said 6,200 people and 500 pets sought refuge in government-run shelters on Wednesday night, and he indicated that public schools and government offices will be closed until Monday. San Juan’s major airport, Luis Munoz Marin International, announced at midday Thursday that no major damage had been done to its infrastructure and that it is ready to resume air operations.
Cuba, Bahamas prepare
The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning and hurricane watch for many of the provinces along Cuba’s north coast. Irma was expected to travel the length of Cuba over the next two days.
Hubert Minnis, prime minister of the Bahamas, issued a mandatory evacuation order Wednesday for six islands with a collective population of about 2,000, according to the 2010 census.
Florida braces for storm
The hurricane is projected to barrel north through Florida on Sunday morning, and many coastal areas are bracing for the impact. Miami-Dade County has issued a mandatory evacuation order for barrier islands and low-lying areas, and Broward County issued a mandatory evacuation for all citizens who live east of Federal Highway. All drawbridges in Broward County will be locked down as of noon on Friday.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has called for 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard to be mobilized this weekend to help in rescue and recovery efforts. The Florida Highway Patrol has been enlisted to escort fuel trucks to gas stations to help more citizens evacuate ahead of the storm.
Much of Florida remains in the cone of Irma’s projected path, and the National Hurricane Center’s advisory states that the storm will likely still retain much of its power when it reaches the state.
“There are no obvious reasons why Irma will not remain a powerful hurricane for the next 3 days while approaching Florida,” it said. “Thereafter, an increase in the wind shear could lead to gradual weakening, but Irma is expected to remain a major hurricane until landfall occurs.”
Georgia mobilizes National Guard
Farther up the coast, Georgia is preparing for Irma as if it will be a major calamity. Gov. Nathan Deal has mobilized 5,000 members of the state’s National Guard and has also issued a state of emergency for 30 counties and a mandatory evacuation order for all areas east of Interstate 95.
“The state is mobilizing all available resources to ensure public safety ahead of Hurricane Irma,” Deal said in a press release Thursday afternoon. “I encourage all Georgians in our coastal areas that could be impacted by this storm to evacuate the area as soon as possible.”
Ileana Ebanks of Cayman, who has family in Florida awaiting the storm, told a Cayman Compass reporter Thursday that her brother Rafael has chosen to wait out the storm with his wife and children in Orlando. She has other family members who plan on staying in Tampa Bay and Miami.
“My family in Miami is staying put, even though we tried to tell them to go further north,” she said on Thursday. “They wanted to stay put, they don’t think it will be that bad.”
Those family members may change their mind after seeing images of the havoc Irma has wreaked in the Caribbean, she said.
“My brother is telling them to at least come up to Orlando,” she said.
More storms coming
Two occurrences previously classified as tropical storms – Katia and Jose – have been upgraded to hurricanes. Eric Blake of the National Hurricane Center said on Twitter that there has never been three hurricanes threatening landfall in the West Atlantic Basin at the same time.
Katia, brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, is poised to make landfall Friday evening. A hurricane warning is in effect from Cabo Rojo to Laguna Verde. Jose is traveling along Irma’s early path, and there is a chance it could pass over the northern Leeward Islands at some point on Saturday.
Antigua and Barbuda, struck hard by Irma, have hurricane watches in effect for Hurricane Jose.
Cayman Compass reporter Ken Silva contributed to this story.