Hurricane Earl powers up
St John’s - Hurricane Earl hit the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean early on Monday as it strengthened to a category two storm, packing high winds, heavy seas and the threat of storm surges.
Residents shored up homes and businesses, and stocked up on essential supplies ahead of the passage of the storm near the twin-island state.
The US-based National Hurricane Centre said Earl displayed maximum sustained winds of 165km/h on Monday morning.
"Additional strengthening is forecast ... and Earl is expected to become a major hurricane by tonight or early Tuesday," it said.
Weather officials forecast more than 13cm of rain from the storm, which is expected to pass north east of Antigua.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda advised inhabitants of low-lying areas to move to higher ground or into shelters, and urged the public to take all necessary precautions.
"The current weather conditions require each and every one of us to be our brothers' and sisters' keeper. Extend a helping hand to those who are in need of assistance at this time," he said.
People appeared to be following his advice: Supermarkets and hardware stores reported brisk business as people rushed to get groceries, flashlights, batteries and other storm-related necessities.
Antigua's lone international airport closed and the main airline, LIAT, cancelled all flights.
Meanwhile, its sister island, Barbuda, was also putting storm preparations in place.
"People... are boarding up where possible. They are predicting it will pass about 48km north of Barbuda," said Fabian Jones, deputy chairperson of the Barbuda Council, which runs day-to-day affairs on the island.
A hurricane warning was issued for the US Virgin Islands. They were also posted for Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, St Maarten, Saba, St Eustatius and the British Virgin Islands.
Eye of the storm
The eye of Earl was currently located 75km northeast of Saint Martin and 273km east of Saint Thomas, heading west-northwest at around 24km/h.
"The centre of Earl will pass near or over the northernmost Leeward Island this morning, and near the Virgin Islands this afternoon or this evening," the National Hurricane Centre said.
The centre said the storm surge would raise water levels in areas where there were hurricane warnings by as much as one to one and a half metres above ground level, primarily near the coast.
"The surge will be accompanied by large and dangerous battering waves," it said.
On the French half of the island of Saint Martin, residents were ordered to stay home while extra fire-fighters arrived from Guadeloupe to deal with any emergency, French Overseas Minister Marie-Luce Penchard said.
The commander of French armed forces in the Caribbean was ready to airlift military personnel as needed, she added, urging locals to closely follow instructions given by public broadcaster RFO and local radio stations.
Movement of the storm
The northern half of Saint Martin is French territory, with the remainder - known as Saint Maarten - belonging to the Netherlands. Saint Bathelemy lies to the southeast.
In the next days, Earl is forecast to skirt northeast of Puerto Rico, the island of Hispaniola, comprised of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, although the Caribbean islands are likely to be buffeted by heavy rains and strong winds from the storm.
Current forecast models have the storm reaching 970km east of the North Carolina on the eastern US coastline early on Friday, but it is unclear if it will make landfall.
Meanwhile, the category one hurricane Danielle, which never made landfall, continued to weaken as it sailed towards the open waters of the north Atlantic.