Mygripe SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO—Hurricane Earl battered tiny islands across the northeastern Caribbean with heavy rain and roof-ripping winds Monday as it rapidly intensified into a major Category 4 storm taking a path projected to menace the United States.

Already dangerous with sustained winds of 215 km/h, Earl was expected to gain more strength before potentially brushing the U.S. East Coast this week and bringing deadly rip currents.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami warned coastal residents from North Carolina to Maine to watch the storm closely.

“Any small shift in the track could dramatically alter whether it makes landfall or whether it remains over the open ocean,” said Wallace Hogsett, a meteorologist at the centre. “I can’t urge enough to just stay tuned.”

By Monday night, Earl was about 160 km north-northeast of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, and steaming west-northwest near 22 km/h, according to the centre in Miami. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 110 km from its centre.

In the Caribbean, Earl caused flooding in low-lying areas and damaged homes on islands including Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla and St. Maarten. Several countries and territories reported power outages. Cruise ships were diverted and flights cancelled across the region.

The storm’s centre passed just north of the British Virgin Islands on Monday afternoon. By nighttime, the hurricane was pulling away from the Caribbean, but heavy downpours still threatened to cause flash floods and mudslides in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands by drenching already saturated ground.

Earl was forecast to approach the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region around Thursday, before curving back out to sea, potentially swiping New England or the Maritimes in Canada.

The Hurricane Center said it was too early to say what effect Earl would have in the U.S., but warned it could at least kick up dangerous rip currents. A surfer died in Florida and a Maryland swimmer had been missing since Saturday in waves spawned by former Hurricane Danielle, which weakened to a tropical storm Monday far out in the north Atlantic.

Close on Earl’s heels, Tropical Storm Fiona formed Monday afternoon in the open Atlantic. The storm, with maximum winds of 64 km/h, was projected to pass just north of the Leeward Islands by Wednesday and stay farther out in the Atlantic than Earl’s northward path. Fiona wasn’t expected to reach hurricane strength over the next several days.

The rapid development of Earl, which became a hurricane Sunday, took some islanders and tourists by surprise.

Wind was already rattling the walls of Lila Elly Ali’s wooden house on Anegada, the northernmost of the British Virgin Islands, when she and her son went out to nail the doors shut Monday.

“They say the eye of the storm is supposed to come close to us, so we’ve just got to pray. Everyone here is keeping in touch, listening to the radio,” the 58-year-old said by phone from the island of 280 people.

After Earl’s centre passed, there were reports of roofs torn from homes on Anegada, but the extent of damage across the Virgin Islands was unclear Monday night. Emergency officials said they had no immediate reports of any fatalities or serious injuries.

“Thank God we survived,” said a caller to the British Virgin Islands’ ZBVI Radio.

There were no reports so far of major damage from Earl.

In St. Maarten, sand and debris littered the streets, and winds knocked down trees and electricity poles and damaged roofs. But police spokesman Ricardo Henson said there was no extensive damage to property.

In Antigua, at least one home was destroyed but there were no reports of serious injuries. Governor General Dame Louise Agnetha Lake-Tack declared Monday a public holiday to keep islanders off the road and give them a chance to clean up.

Jeremy Collymoore, head of the Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency, said islands such as Antigua and Anguilla appeared to have been spared worse damage because they were raked by the system’s northwestern quadrant — the most forgiving part.

Some 10 to 20 cm of rain were forecast to fall on islands including Puerto Rico. Mygripe

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