Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
NASSAU — Hurricane Irene, which has been pounding the southeastern Bahamas since sunrise, has now reached Category 3 strength, the National Hurricane Center in Miami reports in its 8 a.m. update. The storm is packing sustained winds of near 115 mph and is expected to strengthen in the next day or so, forecasters said.
Residents in the southeastern most islands of the Bahamas woke to a battering from the storm. Officials reported islands such as Little Inagua and its neighbors were seeing winds of 110 mph.
At 8 a.m. the storm’s core was 55 miles southeast of Acklins Island, Bahamas, and 335 miles southeast of Nassau. Hurricane force winds extend up to 40 miles from that core and tropical storm force winds extend out up to 205 miles, hurricane center officials report.
Bahamian emergency management officials are hoping this morning that their urgent messages issued near midnight to evacuate the low-lying areas of Lovely Cay on Crooked Island in the Southeastern Bahamas were heeded.
On New Providence Island, which includes the capitol city of Nassau and 70 percent of the nation’s residents, the National Emergency Management Association had opened 26 hurricane shelters late Tuesday.
Hotels filled up with residents fearing flooding or the ability of their homes to withstand category 3 storm winds. The 288-room British Colonial Hilton was fully booked this morning, mostly with Bahamians.
Tropical storm conditions are expected to move into the central Bahamas this morning with hurricane conditions due tonight. The northwestern Bahamas will greet tropical storm conditions late tonight and hurricane conditions Thursday, according to the 8 a.m. forecast.
Last night, with Hurricane Irene on its heels, this island city of 249,000 was abuzz as residents cleared grocery store shelves of water readying for the worst.
“I just want to blink my eyes and have it be Friday so I can see what’s left,” said Pamela Klonaris, who has weathered storms for 41 years in the Bahamas and fears what Irene will leave in its wake. “We’ve stayed through every hurricane, but I don’t know about a Category 3.”
The latest hurricane forecast models still make Irene a borderline Category 3 storm sometime Wednesday. And by midday Thursday, moving through the Bahamas, Irene’s top winds would be 125 mph – only 5 mph below the threshold for Category 4.
Shoppers pushed full carts through backed up lines at the SuperValue near downtown Nassau. The water aisle was nearly dry by 7 p.m., yet the store planned to stay open until 11 p.m., or, until people stop coming, said manager Joseph Rolle.
Yet, despite the dire warnings of winds, few homes were boarded up and, while downtown shops were shuttered, it seemed a typical end to another business day here.
Some residents expressed excitement and anticipation for Irene’s arrival.
“Something to talk about,” one woman in the SuperValue joked.”It’s not the first time I’ve seen a hurricane,” quipped Ling Lee, who was stocking eggs at a small grocery store in town. “People buy water, buy candles, buy gas. I’m not really scared.”
- Hurricane Irene strengthens, plods toward US – CBS News (news.google.com)
- Hurricane Irene strengthens on path to U.S. coast (theglobeandmail.com)