Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Hurricane batters Caribbean islands

A boy takes cover from a wave caused by the approaching Hurricane Earl in Fajardo, Puerto Rico
A boy takes cover from a wave caused by the approaching Hurricane Earl in Fajardo, Puerto Rico
A sunken boat is seen after Hurricane Earl hit Antigua (AP)
A house is flooded as a nearby river overflowed due to the heavy rains of Hurricane Earl on Antigua (AP)

Hurricane Earl has battered tiny islands across the north-eastern Caribbean with heavy rain and roof-ripping winds as it rapidly intensified into a major Category 4 storm, and is now threatening the US.

Already dangerous with sustained winds of 135mph, Earl was expected to gain more strength before potentially brushing the US east coast this week and bringing deadly rip currents.

The US National Hurricane Centre in Miami, Florida, 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."

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 cuts. Cruise ships were diverted and flights cancelled across the region.

The storm's centre passed just north of the British Virgin Islands on Monday night. By night-time, 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 US Mid-Atlantic region around Thursday, before curving back out to sea, potentially swiping New England or far-eastern Canada.

The hurricane centre said it was too early to say what effect Earl would have in the US, 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 on Monday far out in the north Atlantic.

Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Earl's approach ought to serve as a reminder for Atlantic coastal states to update their evacuation plans. He said: "It wouldn't take much to have the storm come ashore somewhere on the coast. The message is for everyone to pay attention."

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