Northern Leewards uneasy as Hurricane Irma gets closer

Antigua and Barbuda is “as ready as they will ever be” for the passage of Hurricane Irma, as the potentially catastrophic category five cyclone, the 10th named system of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, churns across the Atlantic with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph — well above the 157 mph threshold for a category five storm.

At 8p.m. Hurricane Irma was located 85 miles east of Antigua, moving toward the west near 15 mph and threatening virtually every country in the northern Leeward Islands.

A turn toward the west-northwest was forecast to begin tonight and continue for the next couple of days, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in the United States.

“On the forecast track, the extremely dangerous core of Irma will move over portions of the northern Leeward Islands tonight and early Wednesday, move near or over portions of the northern Virgin Islands Wednesday, and pass near or just north of Puerto Rico late Wednesday and Wednesday night,” it said in the 8 p.m. advisory.

An image of Hurricane Irma.

Journalist Anika Kentish in St John’s told Barbados TODAY the people of Antigua and Barbuda were feeling uneasy because of the share power of the storm.

“We are dealing with something that we have never had to deal with before and that is basically a mega storm coming. We have had our fair share of hurricanes – big ones, small ones – but this one is new to us, not just in terms of it being a category five but just the fact that the winds alone are in excess of 185 miles per hour.

“A lot of people are very tense. You walk around St John’s today, a lot of people are uneasy about what is happening. People are fearful and at this point everyone is going to sit and wait it out and see what happens,” she said earlier this evening.

Kentish said that there was no real “mad rush” for supplies as Antiguans had been given ample time – just about a week – to get things in order.

“For the last week, Antiguans and Barbudans have been watching this storm and people have been going out and making preparations. Yes, there were people out at the last minute but what you saw when you went to the grocery stores, they were putting out extra water, you saw a lot of people in the aisles for canned food, not just today, not just yesterday, but for the past five or six days.

“A lot of hardware stores were reporting brisk business for the past few days, so people have been coming in. I think the fact that we knew very early that this was going to be a serious storm, although we didn’t know it was going to be a category five, Met officials and the disaster preparedness officials made it very clear early out that this was going to be a serious storm and more than likely it was going to head our way. As it turns out either way you look at it, regardless of which way its shifts we are going to be in for a long night with a lot of rain and a lot of heavy wind,” she told Barbados TODAY.

Irma is expected to produce between eight and 12 inches of rain in the northern Leeward Islands – up to 20 inches in some parts – which could cause “life-threatening flash floods and mudslides”, according to the NHC.

In addition, the NHC said swells generated by Irma would affect the northern Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the southeastern Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the northern coast of the Dominican Republic during the next several days.

“These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions,” it warned.

Although it was some 200 miles north of Barbados, the storm had been generating swells of up to 13 feet in the waters around Barbados, “particularly on the western, south-western and north-western sides of the island tonight and into tomorrow,” according to the Barbados Meteorological Service.

“This activity, though short-lived, may become even more adverse at times of high tide,” the Met Office said, adding that high surf and small craft advisories would remain in effect through to 6 p.m tomorrow.

In Dominica, which was also experiencing high waves, police pleaded with people in the south eastern village of Petite Savanne to evacuate immediately as the village was deemed unsafe during this time.

“This is the final warning to those persons, if you are still in Petite Savanne now you should leave Petite Savanne,” police superintendent Richmond Valentine said.

“Petite Savanne is not safe, and we are asking those persons who are there that they should leave Petite Savanne and leave now.”

Almost the entire village was destroyed by Tropical Storm Erika in 2015, with close to 30 people losing their lives.

The Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization today expressed “concern for residents and visitors in the countries that are in the hurricane’s projected path, and prayed that the impact will be reduced.

“We take this storm seriously. The safety of the Caribbean’s citizens and our visitors is the number one concern for the authorities and emergency response teams throughout the region,” the CTO said in a statement.

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