Hurricane Earl intensifies, threatens East Coast of US
Caribbean may have been spared major damage
SAN JUAN — Hurricane Earl battered tiny islands across the northeastern Caribbean with heavy rain and roof-ripping winds yesterday, rapidly intensifying into a major Category 4 storm on a path projected to menace the United States.
Already dangerous with sustained winds of 135 miles per hour, Earl is expected to gain more strength before potentially brushing the East Coast this week and bringing deadly rip currents.
The 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 center. “I can’t urge enough to just stay tuned.’’
Earl was about 110 miles northeast of San Juan yesterday afternoon and headed west-northwest at 15 miles per hour, according to the center. Hurricane-force winds extended up to 70 miles from its center.
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 canceled across the region.
“We are getting a battering with wind and rain,’’ said Martin Gussie, a police officer in Anguilla. Several utility poles were down and a couple of roofs had blown away, he said, and it was still too dangerous to assess the full extent of the damage.
The storm’s center passed just north of the British Virgin Islands yesterday. It was forecast to move gradually away from the Caribbean and approach the US Mid-Atlantic region around Thursday, before curving back out to sea, potentially swiping New England or eastern Canada.
The Hurricane Center said it is too early to say what effect Earl would have on the United States, but warned it could at least kick up rip currents. A surfer died in Florida and a Maryland swimmer has been missing since Saturday in waves spawned by Hurricane Danielle, which weakened to a tropical storm yesterday far out in the 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.
“It wouldn’t take much to have the storm come ashore somewhere on the coast,’’ Fugate said. “The message is for everyone to pay attention.’’
There were no reports so far of major damage from Earl, but mudslides and flooding were still a risk, with 4 to 8 inches of rain forecast to fall on islands including Puerto Rico.
In St. Maarten, Ricardo Henson, police spokesman, said there was no extensive property damage.
In Antigua, at least one home was destroyed, but there were no reports of serious injuries. Jeremy Collymoore of the Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency, said islands such as Antigua and Anguilla appeared to have been spared because they were raked by the storm’s more forgiving northwest quadrant.