Hurricane Earl, a Category 4 storm with winds of 135 mph, tore through the northern Caribbean Monday, downing power lines, flooding low-lying areas, sending hundreds of people into emergency shelters, causing mudslides and tearing roofs off some buildings before moving off to the northwest of San Juan.
The center of Earl is expected to pass east of the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas on Tuesday, and then curve toward the U.S. East Coast, kicking up rip currents from North Carolina to Maine over Labor Day weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm is forecasted to remain over water while churning up the East Coast, but a turn toward land could happen, say meteorologists.
Although tropical storm warnings have been lifted for Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, most airports and seaports remained closed as of Tuesday morning. This could change later in the day as conditions improve.
Luis Munoz Marin Airport in San Juan is open but numerous delays are reported. Two flights into San Juan from New York Kennedy were canceled Tuesday morning.
Earl brushed east of Grand Turk Tuesday afternoon, and tropical storm conditions were expected to produce dangerous tides and storm surges. A tropical storm watch remained in effect for the southeastern Bahamas.
Mark Walters, director of Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management, reported that power was out on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John.
"As soon as the damage surveys are completed, we will have crews out to get the power lines back up,” Walters said during a CNN interview Tuesday morning.
There are no reports of major damage to hotels, although most islands are still assessing the storm’s impact.
Earl will begin turning to a more northwesterly track on Wednesday and could move toward the Carolina coastline Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center, which may post a hurricane watch for portions of the Mid-Atlantic later today.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency already has a team in place in North Carolina and will have teams ready to fly into New England if necessary on Wednesday, according to FEMA Director Craig Fugate.
The storm’s uncertain track and high speed as it moves up the U.S. coast may force emergency planners to issue evacuation orders.
Close on Earl’s heels, Tropical Storm Fiona formed Monday afternoon in the open Atlantic. The storm’s path is projected to take it north of the Leeward Islands by Wednesday and stay farther out in the Atlantic than Earl’s northward path.