Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene heads for US after hitting Caribbean

US authorities are gearing up for the first hurricane to make landfall since 2008 as Hurricane Irene strengthened across the Caribbean, wreaking havoc in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

The US National Hurricane Center said Irene, currently classified as a category 2 storm, could increase in intensity to category 3, with winds reaching more than 111mph (178km/h) before hitting the south-east US coast, including Florida, North and South Carolina, by the weekend.

Around 800,000 people in the Dominican Republic were left without power by the storm, which felled trees, swelled rivers over their banks and flooded some roads.

Earlier, Irene buffeted Puerto Rico with winds and heavy rain, knocking out power and downing trees. Governor Luis Fortuño said the worst hit area was the east coast, from Fajardo to Yabucoa, and he asked the US government to declare the island a disaster area so it can gain access to emergency funds.

In Haiti there were fears that rain could trigger floods and mudslides. The country is still struggling to recover from the devastating earthquake of 2010.

Irene, the first hurricane of this year's Atlantic season, also looks set to be the first to hit the US since Ike landed on the Texas coast in 2008. Forecasters expect the storm to swing parallel to the Florida coast on Thursday and have warned it could hit North or South Carolina on Saturday.

US authorities along the Atlantic seaboard from Miami to New York are monitoring its progress closely, with at least some computer forecast models showing the storm could sweep close to New York early next week.

Barack Obama, currently on holiday in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, has been briefed, White House officials said.
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