A still-growing hurricane lashed a large area of the Caribbean today, wrecking homes and sending tourists rushing for shelter.
The US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said Hurricane Earl was already a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph, and it was likely to keep gaining force.
The eye of the storm was passed close to the tiny British territory of Anguilla, where it blew the roofs off buildings and damaged power and telephone lines.
“The winds are whistling outside,” said Martin Gussie, a police officer involved in co-ordinating the emergency response. “When the gusts of wind come, each time it sounds stronger.”
In Antigua, wind and rain destroyed at least one home and at least eight people had to be evacuated, though there were no reports of critical injuries.
Emergency response officials said about 350 people were in shelters with at least five inches of rain and 10ft waves.
In St. Maarten, the storm toppled trees and knocked out electricity to much of the island but there were no reports of serious damage. Heavy gusts of wind swirled debris across streets that were empty due to a government-imposed curfew.
Alisha Daya, a 24-year-old US tourist, said she wore earplugs but still had trouble sleeping because of the noise from the wind and crashing waves at the Oyster Bay Beach Resort in St. Maarten.
“It was loud because we were right on the ocean,” said Daya, who said the storm will keep her and her parents and boyfriend from leaving the island as planned although the worst seemed to have passed. “Some furniture is flying around, but everything seems to be OK.”
Cruise lines diverted ships to other ports in the Caribbean and Mexico as a customary precaution for tropical weather. Antigua’s V.C. Bird International Airport closed, and regional airlines suspended flights.
Hurricane warnings were in effect for Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, the British Virgin Islands, the US Virgin Islands and the Puerto Rican islands of Culebra and Vieques.
By late today, Earl was about 165 miles east of San Juan and headed west-north-west at 15 mph.
Earl has grown rapidly in strength, fuelled by warm ocean temperatures of 30 C.
It could bring battering waves and storm surges of up to four feet above normal on some islands, as well as downpours that threaten to unleash flash floods and mudslides.
Forecasters say there is a chance the hurricane could brush the US Mid-Atlantic region toward the end of the week, with its closest approach to North Carolina on Thursday or Friday.