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Carolinas likely destination for Irene

Storm pummels Haiti; forecast suggests it could be a major hurricane by week end

MIAMI (UPI) | August 22, 2011

Irene strengthened into a hurricane early Monday as it barreled over Puerto Rico with heavy rains and winds, forecasters said.

The storm pummeled the U.S. territory east of the Dominican Republic and west of the U.S. and British Virgin Islands with a windswept torrent that brought up to 10 inches of rain, officials said.

It was too early to know how significant the storm's damage was.

Irene, which also drenched the Virgin Islands, moved steadily at about 15 mph toward Haiti and the Dominican Republic, likely reaching the neighboring countries on the island of Hispaniola Monday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

The countries could get as much as 20 inches of rain, which would produce mudslides and flash floods, forecasters said.

More than 600,000 Haitians still live without shelter 18 months after a Jan. 12, 2010, catastrophic magnitude-7 earthquake that killed an estimated 316,000 people, injured 300,000 more and left more than a million people homeless.

The U.S. military's humanitarian assistance mission, known as Continuing Promise 2011, was halted Sunday in anticipation of Haiti's severe weather. The mission, which arrived at the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince Thursday, treated about 1,450 patients and performed 15 surgeries, military officials said.

The mission provides medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support to the Caribbean Basin and Central and South America.

Forecasters said Irene would likely strengthen as it skirts Florida to the east and is forecast to reach the Carolinas near Cape Fear by Friday as the season's first hurricane.

The AccuWeather Hurricane Center said the storm's critical path would likely be the area between Miami and the southeastern North Carolina port city of Wilmington. That area could face 10 to 20 inches of rain in the slow-moving hurricane, AccuWeather said.

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