September 7, 2017

Hurricane Irma in the Eastern Caribbean: CNES activates Pleiades satellites to coordinate assistance to affected populations

Hurricane Irma has been ripping through the Eastern Caribbean since Tuesday 5 September. Classed as a Category 5, it has so far hit Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Anguilla and Puerto Rico with, as we all know, terrible cost to human life and property. It is now heading towards the United States. In order to place all satellite facilities at the disposal of rescue services and help in the geopositioning and mapping of affected zones, the Space and Major Disasters International Charter—co-founded by CNES and ESA in 2000—has been activated several times in order to coordinate assistance to local populations.

The storm that has hit the inhabitants of the Eastern Caribbean, with winds of over 300 km/h, has taken a horrific toll with several dead and huge damage to property. The Space and Major Disasters Charter was first activated on 5 September around midday, then for the Dominican Republic that same evening, and finally for Florida on 6 September. There are therefore three activations of the Charter currently in place for the different areas concerned. 

More than twenty of the Charter’s satellites have been mobilized: optical satellites to identify damage (damaged houses and buildings, unusable roads, etc.) and radar satellites to identify flooding. Meanwhile, the two Pleiades satellites are currently programmed to receive images of all zones requested by the Charter’s activators. The first images from Pleiades will become available from 7 September, weather conditions permitting.

Irma is the most powerful hurricane recorded in this area for several decades and may hit the United States east coast this weekend. The final activation of the week, for Florida, was the Charter’s 550th activation since its creation in 2000 and its 33rd this year. In the face of this terrible crisis, CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall, said: “CNES and all its partners are doing everything in their power to provide the necessary space data to the relevant authorities as soon as possible, in order to provide assistance to these hard-hit areas. Everything is being done so that these satellites can enable the provision of assistance to people affected by this horrific climate disaster.”

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