Hurricane Irene's approach puts Florida on alert

Hurricane Irene's approach puts Florida on alert

Florida has been put on alert after Hurricane Irene, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, gained strength as it passed north of the Dominican Republic.

Schools were shut and coastal communities evacuated in the Dominican Republic as the storm approached. A hurricane warning remains in force for the north coast of the Dominican Republic, eastward from the adjoining Haitian border.

At least 12 ships owned by Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International have been forced to adjust Caribbean itineraries due to Hurricane Irene and flights across the Caribbean have been severely disrupted

The former tropical storm, which was upgraded to a Category 2 hurricane yesterday, brought high winds and torrential rain to Puerto Rico – a major cruise hub in the Caribbean –cutting electricity to about 800,000 people. More than half the island lost power, while water supplies to more than 100,000 people were affected. No fatalities were reported.

The US National Hurricane Centre in Miami warned that Irene will strengthen further as it heads northwest towards the Bahamas, possibly reaching Category 3 as early as today and Category 4 within 72 hours.

Meteorologist Chris Landsea said: “We didn't anticipate it gaining this much strength this early,” adding that the ocean's warm temperatures and the current atmosphere is “very conducive” to storms.

The Bahamas government has issued a hurricane warning for Turks & Caicos and the southeastern and central Bahamas. The hurricane is reportedly generating winds of more than 95mph, and is heading north towards Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas in the US later in the week.

Image: NASA MODIS Rapid Response

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