Hurricane Earl began lashing the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean early Monday as it strengthened to a Category Two storm, packing high winds, heavy seas and the threat of storm surges.
Residents shored up homes and businesses, and stocked up on essential supplies ahead of the passage of the storm near the twin-island state.
At 0600 GMT Monday, the US-based National Hurricane Center said Earl displayed maximum sustained winds of 100 miles (160 kilometers) an hour.
"Further strengthening is forecast ... and Earl is expected to become a major hurricane by late Monday," it said.
Weather officials forecast more than five inches (13 centimeters) of rain from the storm, which is expected to pass northeast of Antigua.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda advised inhabitants of low-lying areas to move to higher ground or into shelters, and urged the public to take all necessary precautions.
"The current weather conditions require each and every one of us to be our brothers' and sisters' keeper. Extend a helping hand to those who are in need of assistance at this time," he said.
People appeared on Sunday to be following his advice: supermarkets and hardware stores reported brisk business as people rushed to get groceries, flashlights, batteries and other storm-related necessities.
Antigua's lone international airport was due to close later Sunday and the main airline, LIAT, canceled all flights.
Meanwhile, its sister island, Barbuda, was also putting storm preparations in place.
"People... are boarding up where possible. They are predicting it will pass about 30 miles north of Barbuda," said Fabian Jones, deputy chairman of the Barbuda Council, which runs to the day-to-day affairs on the island.
Hurricane warnings also were posted for Saint-Martin, Saint-Barthelemy, Montserrat, St Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, St Maarten, Saba, St Eustatius and the British Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands were under a tropical storm warning.
The eye of Earl was currently located 35 miles (55 kilometers) north of Barbuda and 85 miles (135 kilometers) east of Saint Martin, heading west-northwest at around 15 miles (24 kilometers) per hour.
"The center of Earl will pass near or over the northernmost Leeward Island early Monday, and near the British Virgin Islands by late Monday," the national hurricane center said.
The hurricane center said the storm surge would raise water levels in areas where there were hurricane warnings by as much as two to four feet above ground level, primarily near the coast.
"The surge will be accompanied by large and dangerous battering waves," it said.
On the French half of the island Saint Martin, residents were ordered to stay home while extra firefighters arrived from Guadeloupe to deal with any emergency, French Overseas Minister Marie-Luce Penchard said.
The commander of French armed forces in the Caribbean was ready to airlift military personnel as needed, she added, urging locals to closely follow instructions given by public broadcaster RFO and local radio stations.
The northern half of Saint Martin is French territory, with the remainder -- known as Saint Maarten -- belonging to the Netherlands. Saint Bathelemy lies to the southeast.
In the next days, Earl is forecast to skirt northeast of Puerto Rico, the island of Hispaniola -- comprised of Haiti and the Dominican Republic -- and Cuba, although the Caribbean islands are likely to be buffeted by heavy rains and strong winds from the storm.
Current forecast models have the storm reaching 600 miles (970 kilometers) east of the North Carolina on the eastern US coastline early Friday, but it is unclear if it will make landfall.
Meanwhile, the Category One hurricane Danielle, which never made landfall, continued to weaken as it sailed towards the open waters of the north Atlantic.
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