Hurricane warnings went out across a large part of the Caribbean today as a major storm grew in force.
Hurricane Earl lashed the northern Leeward Islands with heavy rain and strong winds sending tourists to safety inside their hotel rooms.
The US National Hurricane Centre said Earl, already a Category 2 storm, could become a major hurricane by tomorrow.
Warnings were in effect in Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, St Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, St Martin, St Barthelemy, St Maarten, Saba, St Eustatius, the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands.
Steady bands of rain began falling late yesterday on islands including Antigua.
Earlier islanders stocked up on food, water and supplies, set up shelters and tied down boats in harbours across the northern Caribbean as Earl blew toward the region.
Antigua's V.C. Bird International Airport closed, and regional airlines suspended flights. Cruise ships diverted to other ports in the Caribbean and Mexico to avoid the storm's path.
In St Kitts and Nevis, people were urged to take all necessary precautions for the hurricane, which is dwarfing the tiny island nations and territories of the northern Caribbean.
"We really don't want any loss of life, whether by persons who are careless or by security or emergency persons trying to rescue people," said Carl Herbert, head of the local emergency management agency.
Hardware stores did a brisk business in plywood and boards as worried residents and employees of tourist hotels prepared to protect windows and doors.
Early today Earl was about 50 miles east-north-east of St. Martin and heading west-north-west at 15 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 50 miles from its centre.
Earl became a hurricane yesterday and has continued to grow rapidly in strength, fuelled by warm ocean temperatures of 30 C.