Federal officials urged U.S. residents to prepare for possible evacuations and islanders in the Turks and Caicos braced for high winds Tuesday as powerful Hurricane Earl howled over open seas toward the East Coast of the U.S.
The Category 4 hurricane, with winds of 135 mph, was expected to remain over the open ocean before turning north and running parallel to the U.S. coast, potentially reaching the North Carolina coastal region by late Thursday or early Friday. It was projected then to curve back out to sea, perhaps swiping New England or far-eastern Canada.
“We can’t totally rule out a very close approach to either of the Cape Hatteras areas or Cape Cod and southern New England as the storm progresses further,” said Bill Read, director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate said Tuesday that people along the eastern seaboard should be prepared in case evacuations are necessary later this week.
Officials will be closely monitoring the movement of the Category 4 storm to determine which parts of the coast will face the greatest impact. It’s too early to tell right now what those might be.
FEMA already has teams deployed in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and North Carolina. It has advance teams prepared to work with other states up the coast.
“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 U.S. National Hurricane Center. “I can’t urge enough to just stay tuned.”
Earl barreled toward the U.S. coast early Tuesday after battering tiny islands across the northeastern Caribbean with heavy rain and winds that damaged homes and toppled power lines.
On the Turks and Caicos, a British territory, islanders wary of a possible blow from the powerful hurricane pulled boats ashore and packed supermarkets.
The Hurricane Center said it was too early to say what effect Earl would have in the U.S., but rip tides are a big concern up and down the Atlantic coast, reports CBS News weather anchor Dave Price.
A surfer died in Florida and a Maryland swimmer had been missing since Saturday in waves spawned by former Hurricane Danielle, which weakened to a tropical storm Monday far out in the north Atlantic.
Earl could make the surf even more treacherous.
Fugate 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.”
Earl delivered a glancing blow to several small Caribbean islands on Monday, tearing roofs off homes and cutting electricity to people in Anguilla, Antigua, and St. Maarten. Cruise ships were diverted and flights canceled across the region. But there were no reports of death or injury.
In Providenciales, in the Turks and Caicos, Benson Capron was among several fishermen tying their boats to trees lining a beach.
“I hear it is going to pass, but I will not take any chances,” Capron said. “Today I will not go out to fish.”
The storm’s center passed just north of the British Virgin Islands on Monday afternoon. Despite a few lost fishing boats and several uprooted trees in Tortola and Anegada, there were no reports of major damage or injuries, said Sharleen DaBreo, disaster management agency director.
By midday Tuesday, Earl’s center was about 205 miles east of Grand Turk island as it headed west-northwest at 14 mph, according to the hurricane center. Hurricane strength winds extended up to 70 miles from the center, it said.
Tropical storm conditions were expected to spread into the Turks and Caicos by Tuesday afternoon, with a potential for above normal tides and dangerous tides. The territory was under a tropical warning and a tropical storm watch was in effect for the southeastern Bahamas.
Close on Earl’s heels, Tropical Storm Fiona formed Monday afternoon in the open Atlantic. The storm, with maximum winds of 40 mph, was projected to pass just north of the Leeward Islands by Wednesday and stay farther out in the Atlantic than Earl’s northward path. Fiona wasn’t expected to reach hurricane strength over the next several days.
The rapid development of Earl, which only became a hurricane Sunday, took some islanders and tourists by surprise.
Wind was already rattling the walls of Lila Elly Ali’s wooden house on Anegada, the northernmost of the British Virgin Islands, when she and her son went out to nail the doors shut Monday.
“They say the eye of the storm is supposed to come close to us, so we’ve just got to pray. Everyone here is keeping in touch, listening to the radio,” the 58-year-old said by phone from the island of 280 people.
After Earl’s center passed, there were reports of roofs torn from homes on Anegada, but the extent of damage across the Virgin Islands was unclear Monday night. Emergency officials said they had no immediate reports of any fatalities or serious injuries.
“Thank God we survived,” said a caller to the British Virgin Islands’ ZBVI Radio.
In Anguilla, several utility poles were down and a couple of roofs had blown away, but it was still too dangerous to go out and assess the full extent of damage, said Martin Gussie, a police officer.
At El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, people lined up at the reception desk, the lights occasionally flickering, to check out and head to the airport. There, more delays awaited.
John and Linda Helton of Boulder, Colorado, opted to ride out the storm. The couple, celebrating their 41st wedding anniversary, finished a cruise Sunday and planned to spend three days in Puerto Rico.
“There was a huge line of people checking out as we were coming in, and I thought it was just that summer vacation must be over,” said John Helton, a real estate appraiser. “But we paid for the room, so we might as well stick it out.”
“I don’t think we could get a flight even if we wanted to leave,” Linda Helton added.
There were no reports so far of major damage from Earl.
In St. Maarten, sand and debris littered the streets, and winds knocked down trees and electricity poles and damaged roofs. But police spokesman Ricardo Henson said there was no extensive damage to property.
In Antigua, at least one home was destroyed but there were no reports of serious injuries. Governor General Dame Louise Agnetha Lake-Tack declared Monday a public holiday to keep islanders off the road and give them a chance to clean up.
Some 4 to 8 inches of rain were forecast to fall on islands including Puerto Rico.
Early Tuesday, Earl was about 175 miles north-northwest of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, and moving west-northwest near 13 mph, according to the center in Miami. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 70 miles from its center.
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