Carolinas prepare for Irene's arrival

Forecasters say hurricane could be worst in a decade

WILMINGTON, NC (UPI) | August 22, 2011


U.S. forecasters said Hurricane Irene, the first Atlantic hurricane of the 2011 season, was veering away from Puerto Rico Monday and heading toward the Bahamas on its way to the Carolinas.

In its 5 p.m. EDT advisory, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Irene was a Category 1 storm with sustained winds at 80 mph as it headed toward the west-northwest at 13 mph, but was expected to grow stronger in the coming days. Irene was about 215 miles southeast of Grand Turk Island and about 65 miles north-northwest of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

The government of the Bahamas issue a hurricane warning for the central Bahamas and a watch for the northwestern Bahamas. A warning was in effect for the north coast of the Dominican Republic from the Haiti border eastward to Cabo Engano, and also for the Turks and Caicos Islands.

A watch was in effect for the north coast of Haiti from Le Mole St. Nicholas eastward to the Dominican border. A tropical storm warning was in effect for the south coast of the Dominican Republic from Santo Domingo eastward to Cabo Engano, and for all of Haiti.

Irene was expected to slow its forward progress slightly Monday night and Tuesday. The core of the storm was tracking just north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti Monday evening and was to be near or over the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas Tuesday. It is to reach the central Bahamas early Wednesday, gaining strength as it goes, the hurricane center said, and could be near major hurricane strength as it moves over the central Bahamas.

Hurricane force winds extended outward from Irene's center as much as 30 miles, with tropical storm winds reaching out as much as 185 miles.

Irene is producing as much as 10 inches of rain in some areas and tidal surges are expected to climb as much as 7-11 feet above normal in the central Bahamas.

With Irene being designated the region's first hurricane of the season, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is advising people living in the projected path of the storm to put together a family emergency plan and supply kit. Irene could hit the southeastern United States this week.

FEMA has been proactively reaching out to states along the Gulf Coast and East Coast as they prepare for Irene.

"FEMA, along with the entire federal family, is closely monitoring Hurricane Irene, and is coordinating with all of our state and territorial partners that have or could potentially be impacted by this storm," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in a release. "We stand ready to support the areas that have already been impacted and encourage those residents to continue listening to the instructions of their local officials. For residents in states that may be affected later this week, it's critical that you take this storm seriously and take steps now to prepare your families, homes and businesses."

He suggested people check out Ready.gov or Listo.gov.

JetBlue Airways said it would waive change/cancellation fees and fare differences for customers traveling to and from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic through Tuesday, USA Today reported.

The cities affected include San Juan, Ponce and Aguadilla in Puerto Rico; and Santo Domingo, Santiago, Puerto Plata and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

JetBlue said customers can rebook their flights for travel through Saturday without paying change fees, while customers with canceled flights can also choose a refund. Original travel must have been booked on or before Sunday, Aug. 21.

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