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article imageEastern Caribbean braces for powerful Hurricane Irma

By AFP     Sep 4, 2017 in Environment

Hurricane Irma, a powerful storm, will soon threaten much of the eastern Caribbean, the US National Hurricane Center said Monday, with several islands under hurricane warnings.

Irma, now a category three hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph), should continue strengthening through Wednesday, the NHC said in an advisory issued at 1800 GMT. It is currently east of the island of Montserrat.

Some forecasters expect the storm to reach category four strength -- the maximum attained by Hurricane Harvey, which recently devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana.

Irma is projected to reach the Leeward Islands, east of Puerto Rico, by late Tuesday or early Wednesday, bringing water levels up to 9 feet (3 meters) above normal levels, rainfall of up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) in areas, and "large and destructive waves."

In Puerto Rico, a US territory, Governor Ricardo Rossello Nevares activated the National Guard and announced the opening of storm shelters able to house up to 62,000 people. Schools will be closed Tuesday.

- US carrier in position -

A US aircraft carrier carrying a field hospital and dozens of aircraft able to conduct rescue or supply missions has been positioned protectively in the area, according to Alejandro de la Campa of the Caribbean division of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Local press identified the carrier as the USS Kearsarge.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz Soto ordered 900 municipal employees -- police, emergency personnel, and aid and social workers -- to report for rotating 12-hour shifts.

Even if that island is spared a direct hit, the mayor said, three days of pounding rain will do heavy damage.

Irma's precise path remains unclear, but several projections have it passing over the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before turning north toward Florida and then possibly swinging up the US East Coast.

For now, hurricane warnings have been issued for the islands of Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin, Sint Maarten, St. Barthelemy, Saba and St. Eustatius. A warning means hurricane conditions are expected in the next 36 hours.

Hurricane watches -- meaning hurricane conditions are possible within 48 hours -- have been issued for some of the more populous parts of the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and the US and British Virgin Islands.

On the French island of Guadeloupe, people have been stocking up on provisions, leaving some store shelves empty.

Schools on Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin have delayed their reopening after summer vacation.

Authorities in the region were alerting residents to the location of storm shelters, and urging them to closely monitor the developing storm.

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