After hammering the Florida Keys, Miami, Naples and a large swath of the southernmost part of the state – leaving some 5 million Florida homes and businesses without electricity – the still-formidable Hurricane Irma weakened to a category one storm as it traveled over the Tampa Bay area.
According to NBC, no deaths were confirmed Sunday after the storm twice made landfall in Florida, first in Cudjoe Key, then again on Marco Island just southwest of the city of Naples. Florida's largest utility – Florida Power & Light Co. - reported that the storm had knocked out power to nearly three-quarters of its customers. All told, FP&L estimates that some 10 million Floridians will be effected by the power outages – a full 50% of the state’s population.
In fact, officials from the utility say the damage in the southwestern part of the state is so extensive, it could take weeks to fully repair, after Irma shredded powerlines, flooded streets and destroyed homes, according to ABC. One officials said it could be the costliest and most extensive infrastructure-rebuilding effort in US history.
FPL had requisitioned 17,000 restoration workers from about 30 states in preparation for the storm. But even with an army of workers, the recovery effort will be time-consuming and incredibly costly.
Meanwhile, as of 5 am ET Monday, Irma had sustained winds of 75 mph as it continued to move inland. It was recently traveling about 60 mph north of Tampa, with what’s left of the storm ultimately headed for Georgia and Alabama. In an incredibly fortunate development, Tampa appears to have been largely spared by the storm. Some trees, power lines and signs were down but there was no widespread damage and no signs of flooding downtown – this after city officials worried that Tampa could experience its own “Katrina moment” due to the city’s woefully inadequate storm infrastructure.
Of course, the damage from the 400-mile-wide storm isn’t over yet. A storm surge warning remains in effect for some parts of the state, including Tampa Bay, though the warnings were ended for parts of south Florida. As we noted yesterday, the storm surge is a wall of water from the ocean as well as nearby lakes, bays, estuaries and wetlands created by a storm’s hurricane force winds. It can form suddenly – like it did in Naples on Sunday when the NHC reported that floodwaters climbed seven feet in just 90 minutes.
Hurricane-force winds were extending outward up to 60 miles from Irma's center, and tropical-storm-force winds were being felt up to 415 miles away, the National Hurricane Center said early Monday.
While Irma has repeatedly contradicted expectations, most memorably when the storm shifted westward on Saturday, setting up the southwestern part of the state for a direct hit, here’s what forecasters expect from the storm on Monday, according to NBC.
While it avoided the direct hit that some were expecting, the city of Miami still experienced catastrophic winds and flooding. Many streets remain submerged, and three construction cranes collapsed in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
As the two old, cold war adversaries, Russia and NATO, prepare to begin massive war games to show off their respective military strengths, it was the UK's turn to accuse Russia first of "testing the West" by conducting war games on NATO’s eastern flank in its biggest military exercise in four years. Speaking on BBC's “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday, U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said that Russia's exercise "is designed to provoke us, it’s designed to test our defenses, and that’s why we have to be strong. Russia is testing us and testing us now at every opportunity. We’re seeing a more aggressive Russia. We have to deal with that."
In a testament to our hyperbolic times, Fallon's statement also contained just a "little bit" of fake news: while Fallon said that more than 100,000 Russian and Belorussian troops are at the borders of North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said last month that the so-called Zapad 2017 exercise Sept. 14-20 involves 13,000 troops, and that the drills are “purely of a defensive nature" according to Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, what the NATO commander forgot to mention is that just days before the dreaded Russian "Zapad 2017" exercise is set to begin, NATO's own Steadfast Pyramid 2017 military exercise kicked off in Latvia on Sunday, with 40 senior commanders from NATO states, as well as Finland and Sweden. They are expected to train how to “plan and conduct operations” amid the bloc’s buildup in t
Steadfast Pyramid 2017 and Steadfast Pinnacle 2017, involving more than 40 senior officers from NATO member states, plus Finland and Sweden, will take place at the Riga-based Latvian Defense Academy, the country’s national news agency LETA reported on Sunday.
Covering the duration of Russia's drills, Steadfast Pyramid, the first part of the exercise, will last until September 15. It is reportedly “to improve the ability of top-level officers and commanders to plan and lead joint operations,” according to LETA. Steadfast Pinnacle, the next stage of the drill, will last from September 17 until September 22. Steadfast Pyramid and Steadfast Pinnacle were first held in Latvia in 2011. British General James Everard, the NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, is expected to arrive in Latvia to oversee both stages of the exercise, Latvia’s Defense Ministry said, according to LETA.
While NATO has denied it, Moscow has repeatedly accused NATO of offensive behavior, and justifies its own defensive buildup and posture on NATO's encroachment on Russian borders.
Meanwhile, blissfully unconcerned about the Russian response, Poland and the Baltics have been calling for a stronger military presence in their countries, claiming it is necessary to deter “assertive” Russia. Lithuania has gone so far as suggesting developing a “military Schengen project that would facilitate the movement of troops in Europe.” Earlier this week, Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis said the Benelux countries – Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg – as well as Finland and Estonia, support the plan, which includes “simplifying procedures and investing in infrastructure.”
At the same time, Moscow has consistently said the ongoing buildup threatens Russian and European security. In mid-July, Russian envoy to NATO Alexander Grushko said the alliance is pushing forward for “an intensive mastering of the potential theater of military operations, accompanied by the development of the necessary infrastructure.”
To underscore his point, Grushko added that from July to November, NATO will hold 15 drills complementing each other, “which are held in the same operative field and aimed at providing a vast range of support measures.”
Finally, Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier said that Moscow will not remain silent facing emerging threats on its western borders. NATO’s saber-rattling leaves Russia no other choice than to “give a suitable response to all of these actions,” he said, noting that Moscow’s countermeasures will be “much cheaper,” if not quite as technologically advanced, Putin told award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone.
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