SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Hurricane Earl lashed the northeastern Caribbean on Monday as a still-growing Category 3 storm on a course that could threaten the eastern United States later this week.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Earl, which formed on Sunday, was already a major hurricane with sustained winds of 120 mph (193 kph), and it was likely to keep gaining force.
“Interests from North Carolina all the way to Maine should keep an eye on the system,” said Jessica Schauer, a meteorologist at the Hurricane Center.
The storm’s forecast track would run north of the Caribbean, then bend to the north, roughly parallel to the U.S. East Coast. The hurricane center said it is early to say what effect Earl would have on the U.S.
The eye of the powerful storm was passing close to the tiny British territory of Anguilla, where police said the wind blew the roofs off buildings and damaged utility poles.
“The winds are whistling outside,” said Martin Gussie, a police officer involved in coordinating the emergency response. “When the gusts of wind come, each time it sounds stronger.”
In Antigua, powerful 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. Local weather authorities reported at least 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain and 10-foot (3-meter) 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 tourist from Milwaukee, said she wore earplugs Sunday night 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 on Monday 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 LIAT and Winair suspended flights.
Hurricane warnings were in effect for Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Puerto Rican islands of Culebra and Vieques.
By late Monday morning, Earl was about 165 miles (265 kilometers) east of San Juan and headed west-northwest at 15 mph (24 kph), according to the center in Miami. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 60 miles (95 kilometers) from its center.
Earl has grown rapidly in strength, fueled by warm ocean temperatures of 86 F (30 C).
Earl could bring battering waves and storm surges of up to four feet (1.2 meters) 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 U.S. Mid-Atlantic region toward the end of the week, with its closest approach to North Carolina on Thursday or Friday. In any case, the U.S. East Coast is likely to see pounding surf.
Meanwhile, the Category 1 Hurricane Danielle was weakening far out over the north Atlantic.
Associated Press writers Anika Kentish in St. John’s, Antigua, Judy Fitzpatrick in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, Clive Bacchus in Basseterre, St. Kitts, David McFadden in San Juan and Sofia Mannos in Washington contributed to this report.