Legoland Florida Donates 20,000 Tickets to Kids After Irma

Legoland Florida is giving away 20,000 tickets to help cheer up in kids affected by Hurricane Irma.

The central Florida park announced in a news release Thursday that they’re donating 18,000 theme-park tickets to the UNICEF Kid Power Schools program and 2,000 tickets to Citrus Center Boys & Girls Clubs in Winter Haven. The donated tickets have a value of more than $1.8 million.

Legoland Florida general manager Rex Jackson says they felt compelled to do something special for Florida’s children after the storm left so many households facing months of recovery.

The donations were made in conjunction with Merlin’s Magic Wand, the global charity of Legoland parent company Merlin Entertainments.

Irma hit Florida on Sept. 10, causing power outages, flooding and other damage throughout the state.

Shortage Of Insurance Adjusters May Delay Claims For Hurricane Irma Victims

If your home sustained damage from Hurricane Irma, you might have to wait just to get the insurance company to look at your property to see what repairs will and won’t be covered. Why? Because there aren’t enough claims adjusters to go around right now.

Claims adjusters are the folks used by your insurer to assess damage claims. Larger insurance companies have their own staff adjusters, but smaller insurers often turn to independent adjusters. And in times of widespread calamity, insurers of all sizes will turn to third-party adjusters.

Since independent adjusters get paid on a per-job basis — and on the size of the claim — they are often traveling to areas that have been newly ravaged by disasters, working 12-plus-hour days and seeing as many homes as possible. So when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana, a number of adjusters from Florida went west to deal with the massive amount of post-storm claims.

Problem is, notes the Wall Street Journal, that many of those Florida-based adjusters are still out of state working on the Harvey aftermath, meaning there is a shortage of adjusters immediately available to assess Irma-related claims.

The Journal also points out that the lack of readily available independent adjusters is particularly a problem in Florida because the state’s home insurance market is heavily populated with smaller and mid-size insurers.

While homeowners might feel like their insurer is deliberately delaying sending out a claims adjuster, the reality is that the sooner an insurance company looks at a damaged property, the better it is for the insurer. If you think a home with a roof ripped open by a falling tree looks bad on day one, imagine how it looks after two weeks. Not only will that claim be more costly to the insurer, but the delay increases the likelihood that the homeowner could get litigious.

“An insurance claim isn’t a bottle of wine,” an insurance company defense attorney to the Journal.

According to the Journal, Florida insurers are in a game of tug of war, offering increased compensation to attract adjusters and get these claims sealed up now. At the same time, insurers in Texas are tugging back in an effort to hold on to the adjusters working on Harvey claims.

“Right now, anyone with a license to adjust claims can get a job and some company will try them out,” one adjuster for an independent company tells the Journal. “They’re paying more for adjusters to work Irma than they’ve ever paid insurance adjusters ever.”

Trump Praises ‘Incredible’ First Responders While Visiting Florida

Walking through mobile homes ravaged by Hurricane Irma in Naples, Fla., President Trump praised first responders and residents for doing an “incredible” job on rescue and recovery. Earlier in his one-day visit to Florida, Trump also lauded state and federal officials for their preparation and response to the hurricane.

“We love the people of Florida and they went through something that, I guess, the likes of which we could really say nobody’s ever seen before,” Trump said in Naples.

He spoke with at least one resident who was working to rebuild his house and served sandwiches. The surrounding area was littered with downed trees and ripped-out signs; mobile homes were totaled; and tarps covered roofs, according to pool reports. Gas stations along the way advertised that they didn’t have fuel.

Trump’s praise, he said, is not just for rescue workers but “includes the people who live here. You see people immediately getting back to work to fix up their homes.”

Standing before rescue helicopters and personnel at a hangar earlier in the day in Fort Myers, Fla., Trump also heaped praise on the state and local officials standing with him.

“It’s a team like very few people have seen,” Trump said, referring to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio and state Attorney General Pam Bondi as well as FEMA Administrator Brock Long.

“We’re going to be there. … We’re with you today. We’re going to be with you tomorrow,” Trump said.

Trump and Vice President Pence met with Scott and greeted rescue workers.

The president also used the opportunity to encourage Scott to run for the Senate. “What do I know but I hope this man right here … runs for the Senate,” he said.

Trump pledged to come back to Florida “numerous times.” “We are there for you 100 percent,” he said, adding, “this is a state that I know very well. … These are special, special people and we love ’em.”

Irma Tears A Deadly Path Of Destruction Through Parts Of The Caribbean

France’s Interior minister says Hurricane Irma has killed at least eight people and left 23 injured on French Caribbean island territories. The Associated Press reports:

Speaking on French radio France Info, Gerard Collomb said the death toll in Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy could be higher because rescue teams have yet to finish their inspection of the islands. Collomb said Thursday: “The reconnaissance will really start at daybreak.”

Updated 2:14 a.m. ET Thursday

The National Hurricane Center says the dangerous core of the storm will move away from Puerto Rico Thursday morning and is expected to pass just north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Irma is expected to be near the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas by Thursday evening.

Updated at 10 p.m. ET

Carving its way through the Caribbean, the monstrous Category 5 hurricane called Irma, with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph, demolished homes and killed one person on Barbuda and ripped apart structures in St. Martin as it headed westward toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne says nearly every building on the country’s island of Barbuda had been damaged after the storm hit early Wednesday. He estimates 60 percent of the inhabitants are homeless. He says a 2-year-old child was killed.

“It is just really a horrendous situation,” he said after returning from an aerial inspection. He said roads and telecommunications systems have been destroyed, according to The Associated Press.

Earlier, referring to the country’s other island of Antigua, Browne posted a message of relief to his Facebook page.

“Thank God for his mercies and blessings. He has protected and spared us from the worst of Irma. Thank God that there are no … hurricane casualties reported to this time,” he wrote.

In a subsequent statement, Browne said: “The forecast was that Antigua would be devastated, our infrastructure demolished, people killed and our economy destroyed. In the light of day, the picture is very different.”

St. Martin/Sint Marteen, Anguilla, St. Barts

Video footage coming in from the half-French, half-Dutch island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten has painted a much different picture. One video, apparently shot from a second-story balcony, showed dozens of yachts smashed against a marina bulkhead and several feet of water inundating parked cars.

Dutch Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk says he believes the level of destruction on the island is “enormous.”

Speaking to reporters in The Hague, Netherlands, Plasterk said the damage on the island “is so major that we don’t yet have a full picture, also because contact is difficult at the moment.”

The hurricane was so strong as it passed that it registered on a St. Martin seismometer that is designed to record earthquakes.

The islands of the eastern Caribbean are geographically varied — some such as Anguilla are flat and low-lying, while others such as Hispaniola are mountainous. Thus, they are likely to fare differently in the storm. But perhaps even more important is which side of the storm’s path they fall on, with those along the leading northwestern side of Irma likely to get the brunt of its fierce winds. Islands to the south of its path should experience less severe winds but could still be subject to massive rainfall.

Directly southeast of St. Martin, video posted to social media from another French island, St. Barthelemy, also known as St. Barts, showed a river of water and floating debris running through a street.

In Paris, the French government said that it had delivered water and food to both St. Martin and St. Barts and that emergency response teams were being dispatched. Power was reportedly out on both islands, but no casualties were immediately reported. The British government said it would dispatch a Royal Navy Britain ship with humanitarian assistance to the region.

French President Emmanuel Macron says “the toll will be harsh and cruel” on St. Martin and St. Barts and that “material damage on both islands is considerable.”

The Netherlands’ Ambassador to the United Nations Karel van Oosterom said in addition to Sint Marteen, the islands of Sint Eustatius and Saba were also affected. “First information indicates that a lot of damage has been done but communication is still extremely difficult,” he said, according to AP.

Virgin Islands

Irma raked the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on its way to a likely landfall in Florida later this week or early next week, forecasters say. As of Wednesday afternoon, the storm had passed over the British Virgin Islands, with gusts of nearly 90 mph and offshore waves of 30 feet.

The Associated Press interviewed Laura Strickling, a resident of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, who said she and her family spent 12 hours waiting out the storm in a boarded-up apartment with no electricity.

“They emerged to find the lush island in tatters, with many of their neighbors’ homes damaged and the once-dense vegetation largely gone.

“There are no leaves. It is crazy. One of the things we loved about St. Thomas is that it was so green. And it’s gone,” said Strickling, who moved to the island with her husband three years ago from Washington, D.C. “It will take years for this community to get back on its feet.”

Puerto Rico

By evening, the storm was passing to the north of Puerto Rico, and the island’s emergency management agency said hundreds of thousands of residents were without power and tens of thousands without water.

Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of the island of some 3.4 million people, had urged residents to seek shelter in one of the island’s more than 450 hurricane shelters.

Lauren Weisenthal, 38, a transplanted New Yorker who moved to San Juan just six months ago, tells NPR that she and her husband, Brian, two dogs and a cat are situated high up on the bluffs surrounding the old city.

“We feel as prepared as we can be,” Weisenthal said. “We are in a house that is 100 years old; it weathered Hurricane Hugo [in 1989] and we’re feeling confident.”

But, she says, people in other parts of the city and in rural areas prone to flooding are more nervous.

“Those living closer to the water are definitely more anxious, especially older people who have been through this before,” she says.

Of most concern is the power situation, Weisenthal tells NPR. “We are concerned about that, but because we are in the old city, the center of government and tourism, we might get power back before the rest of the city.”

“But we talk to people in some rural areas that are expecting electricity to be out for months,” she says.

Loren Ann Mayo, an American tourist on the French island of Guadeloupe, just south of Irma’s path, told CNN earlier that she was sheltering from the storm in the bathroom of her hotel room.

“The balcony snapped and is now hanging on by one little piece of wire,” Mayo said.

Hurricane Irma May Cost Florida’s Tourism Industry Millions of Dollars

Potentially catastrophic Hurricane Irma is barreling toward the Caribbean and Florida with winds topping 185 mph, making it the strongest storm ever to form in the open Atlantic waters. As it heads toward land, businesses in Florida are prepared to take a hit.

Tourism is Florida’s top resource, so closures at central Florida theme parks including Walt Disney Co.-owned Walt Disney World, Comcast Corp.’s Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.’s SeaWorld Orlando could dampen a usually busy pre-Halloween season. Further south, cruises leaving Florida ports and venturing into the Caribbean have been cancelled, rerouted and cut short.

Disney World doesn’t close often, but it shut its gates last year when Hurricane Matthew hit. Matthew sucker-punched the Orlando area in early October. If Disney has to shut down operations for any period of time, it’s expected to announce plans before the weekend.

Before it turns to park closures, Disney has an extensive emergency management plan in place. Disney World operates a disaster relief center, which is currently on alert with Florida under a state of emergency. The relief center employs trained professionals who are preparing for the worst-case scenario and will mobilize to secure guests as soon as Hurricane Irma becomes an imminent threat.

When a hurricane watch is in place for any part of central Florida within seven days of your planned visit, Walt Disney World waives the typical cancellation fee. If you booked your Disney World trip with an airline package, you’ll need to get in touch with your airline provider to consider cancelling, as Disney can’t forgive fees from other firms.

Universal Orlando Resort has an “affirmative, no-questions-asked” policy for guests seeking a refund or free cancellation because of a named storm affecting the Orlando area or the guests’ origin, a spokesman told the Orlando Sentinel.

SeaWorld Orlando also offers a “peace of mind” policy that allows guests to reschedule or refund vacation packages or park tickets free of charge.

But offering such policies as a potentially seriously damaging storm approaches central Florida can be costly. “During this time of year, particularly with the Halloween events going on, literally millions of dollars can be lost,” International Theme Park Services president Daniel Speigel told the Orlando Sentinel.

In south Florida, cruises leaving the ports of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Cape Canaveral could be derailed.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. said it plans to cut two Caribbean cruises short this week to avoid the massive storm heading into their path. The voyages aboard the Norwegian Sky and Norwegian Escape will return to Miami on Thursday instead of the planned Friday and Saturday disembarkations. Guests will get a refund for missed vacation days and a discount on future Norwegian trips, the company said in a statement.

Carnival Corp.  has not yet cancelled any trips, but has revised the itineraries of four sailings to stop over in western Caribbean ports instead of eastern Caribbean ports. The company is “watching Irma closely,” a spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.  will also reroute a ship into the western Caribbean and is currently evaluating five trips in the Caribbean, Cuba and Bermuda.

Hurricane Irma, which is roughly the size of Ohio, is expected to tear through the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico starting Thursday and hit Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas and Cuba later this week, the National Hurricane Center said.

Category 5 Hurricane Irma Packs 180-MPH Winds, Takes Aim At Florida

“Hurricane Irma has intensified into an extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane,” the National Hurricane Center says, citing the latest data from NOAA and Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft.

With maximum sustained winds of 180 mph, Irma is a Category 5 — the most serious type of major hurricane on the Saffir-Sampson wind scale.

Irma is the strongest hurricane the NHC has ever recorded in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, the agency says.

Storm preparations are being rushed to completion in the Leeward Islands, where the first tropical-storm force winds could arrive later Tuesday. Irma is currently forecast to hit the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday before continuing on toward the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

The storm will bring “life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall,” the federal agency says.

While it’s still too early to say where Irma might have the most impact on the continental United States, the hurricane center says, “There is an increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys later this week and this weekend.”

Irma is predicted to maintain winds of at least 150 mph for the next five days.

Long-range forecast models are “in strong agreement on a sharp northward turn on Sunday morning,” says Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

The exact timing of that right-hand turn is still unknown, McNoldy adds — outlining a variable that he says will have “huge implications” for people in Florida. Depending on when it occurs, Irma’s turn north could send the storm up either of Florida’s coasts, or through its center.

“Irma is an extremely impressive hurricane in both infrared and visible satellite images,” the National Hurricane Center says, noting its distinct eye that is 25-30 miles wide.

The storm is moving westward at 14 mph, forcing hurricane warnings to be issued for a string of Caribbean islands:

  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra
  • Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis
  • Saba, St. Eustatius and Sint Maarten
  • Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy
  • British Virgin Islands

A hurricane watch has been declared in a number of areas, including the Turks and Caicos and the northern coast of Haiti.

Category 5 status means “catastrophic” damage will occur on lands touched by the hurricane, which is currently predicted to remain a major hurricane as it makes its way west toward the U.S. coast.

As the storm’s track has become more defined, the governors of Florida and Puerto Rico declared preemptive states of emergency.

As NPR’s Scott Neuman reported:

” ‘We have established protocols for the safety of all,’ Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said, urging islanders to take precautions.

“Rossello said 4 to 8 inches of rain were expected, with wind gusts up to 60 mph.

“A few hours later, Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in all 67 counties in the state.”

Here’s how the hurricane center describes the damage that could result from a Category 5 hurricane:

“A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

Rick Scott Declares State of Emergency as Hurricane Irma Approaches

As Houston tries picking up the pieces a little more than a week after Hurricane Harvey, Florida is preparing for the worst as Hurricane Irma appears on the horizon. Florida governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Monday following the news that Irma grew to a category 4 with a maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. Irma is projected to make contact with South Florida over the weekend.

“Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared. I have continued to be briefed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management on Hurricane Irma and current forecast models have Florida in Irma’s path – potentially impacting millions of Floridians,” Gov. Scott said in a statement. “Today, given these forecasts and the intensity of this storm, I have declared a state of emergency for every county in Florida to make certain that state, federal and local governments are able to work together and make sure resources are dispersed to local communities as we get prepared for this storm.”

Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of Puerto Rico, also declared a state of emergency and has called on the National Guard.

With Irma expected to only grow in strength over the next few days, it could become the biggest hurricane to make landfall in South Florida since Hurricane Andrew, a category 5 storm, in 1992. Meteorologist Ryan Maue reports that there’s a more than 50 percent chance Florida will be hit by a category 4 or 5 Irma.