Elsa Gaining strength, becoming the first hurricane of the Atlantic season on Friday, ripped off roofs and felled trees as it swept through the eastern Caribbean, where authorities ordered the closure of schools, businesses and airports. Later it seemed to be heading for Florida.
The Category 1 storm is the first hurricane to hit Barbados in over 60 years, causing heavy rain and wind on the island and later in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, struggling to recover from recent volcanic eruptions.
Elsa’s eye was about 935 kilometers (580 mi) east-southeast of Santo Domingo and west-northwest at 46 km/h (29 mph).
According to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, it had maximum sustained winds of 140 km/h (85 mph). “That level of sustained wind is capable of knocking down a lot of buildings and causing a lot of damage,” warned St. Vincent Deputy Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
“I beg it. Let’s not take this hurricane lightly. This is not the time to play dumb.” Long-term tracking showed the storm would head toward Florida as a tropical storm early Tuesday, although some models believe it would head toward the Gulf of Mexico or the United States coast in the Atlantic Ocean.
Barbados authorities said they had received emergency calls about families trapped in their homes, houses demolished, power cuts and shutdown of drinking water supplies. Yet there are no reports of serious injuries or deaths. Wilfred Abrahams, Minister of the Interior, Information and Public Affairs, urged the population to open their homes to those in need.
“We get a lot of reports of damage”, he said. As a result, a hurricane warning remains in effect from Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, to Punta Palenque in the Dominican Republic. In addition, a hurricane watch has been issued for Jamaica.
Authorities have opened dozens of shelters in San Vicente. In addition, they urged the population to evacuate their homes if they live near a valley due to the threat of flash floods, mudslides and volcanic ash, especially in the northern part of the island, where the La Soufrière volcano erupted .
Gonsalves said 94 shelters are open, a smaller number than in previous years as about 2,000 people are staying in other shelters after the volcanic eruptions that began in early April.