PATILLAS, Puerto Rico - Tropical Storm Irene barreled toward Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands yesterday, packing heavy rains and winds that closed airports and flooded low-lying areas in the Leeward Islands.
The fast-moving storm, moving west-northwest at roughly 17 miles per hour, was taking an unpredictable path that left people in the islands anxious about the winds and rain to come.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Irene was expected to pass near or over Puerto Rico overnight. It is expected to strengthen into a hurricane today as it approaches Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti. More than 600,000 Haitians still live without shelter after last year’s earthquake.
Last night, Irene’s center was some 25 miles east of St. Croix, the largest and poorest of the US Virgin Islands, and about 120 miles east-southeast of San Juan.
Strong winds and battering rain were expected over Puerto Rico, including its outlying islands of Vieques and Culebra. Earlier, forecasters had earlier expected the storm’s center to pass just south of Puerto Rico’s southern coast, but now said it could pass over the island of nearly 4 million inhabitants.
The National Hurricane Center’s current forecast has Irene hitting southern Florida as a hurricane by Thursday. Sustained winds must reach 74 miles per hour for the storm to be classified as a hurricane.
In the US Virgin Islands, Governor John deJongh declared a state of emergency in order to impose storm curfews.