Monday, August 22, 2011

Hurricane Irene hits the Caribbean The first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane Season has developed in the Caribbean. Irene, the ninth storm of the season, developed over the Leeward Islands of Guadeloupe and Dominica and strengthened as it barrelled west towards Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.

As the storm crossed Puerto Rico, the winds topped 120kph, and Tropical Storm Irene was reclassified as Hurricane Irene; the Caribbean Islands began to prepare for the worst. Before making landfall in Puerto Rico, the authorities identified the storm as potentially life-threatening. "We have to take this seriously," the Puerto Rico governor, Luis Fortuno, warned.

The ban on Sunday morning shopping was lifted so residents could stock-pile canned food and bottled water, and would not need to venture out in the storm. Emergency shelters were opened and people in flood zones were urged to use them. People in secure houses were ordered to stay inside and stay off the roads until the storm had passed.

The hurricane flooded streets and caused rivers to overflow their banks, as it raged over the island. Winds brought down trees and left more than a million Puerto Ricans without power, but there were no immediate reports of any deaths. Schools and government offices will now remain closed on Monday, whilst the clear-up operation is underway.

After hitting Puerto Rico, the hurricane is now heading towards Hispaniola, the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. A hurricane warning has already been issued for the north coast of the Dominican Republic and although the storm is only a category one hurricane at the moment, there are concerns that it will strengthen in the next few days.

Hurricane Irene is a slow-moving storm, moving northwest at only 19 kph, which is not good news. The longer the storm is over an area, the more rain and damage it will cause. The hurricane is expected to swamp Hispaniola, the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands with 25cm of rain, and some spots could see up to 50cm. This will cause life-threatening flash-flooding and mudslides….

Tropical Storm Irene (now officially a hurricane) gaining strength on August 21, 2011. From NASA

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