NASSAU, Bahamas: Hurricane Irene intensified into a Category 3 storm yesterday, as it pounded the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI).
The storm had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, and is expected to strengthen further, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Wednesday morning.
At 11 a.m. EST yesterday, Irene was turning northwestward, with its eye moving over Crooked and Acklins islands, the National Hurricane Center said.
“On the forecast track, the core of Irene will move across the southeastern and central Bahamas through tonight and over the northwestern Bahamas on Thursday,” according to a statement from the Hurricane Center.
In an address to the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham stressed that Irene was “a serious storm” and urged residents to make sure they are prepared for its approach.
“It is critically important that all residents in the south eastern and central Bahamas remain on alert in anticipation of the arrival of the storm,” said Ingraham.
“We can, and will, replace and restore anything we may lose; we cannot replace life; hence my urgent and repeated appeals for the observance of safety measures.”
Ingraham said he had been informed by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) that all official preparations for Hurricane Irene were in place and the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) for the entire Bahamas had been activated.
Irene’s path will see it rake a large portion of the island chain as it heads northwest toward the United States.
Ronald Jackson, Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) in Jamaica, says the country is ready to help the Bahamas and the TCI.
He said ODPEM has been assessing and carefully watching the system, in order to provide assistance where necessary.
“We have been preparing our partners here who will be called on to provide ODPEM with co-coordinating support to move resources, human or otherwise, to these affected countries, should they require it,” he said.
Jackson added that his office has spoken with authorities in the Turks and Caicos and have been made aware that the country has access to adequate material resources.
“What they may need is for the deployment of Assessment Teams and so we’re putting those persons on standby,” he said. “We’ve also received feedback from the Bahamas, which also has adequate resources, but nonetheless we’ve identified resources from what we call the Sub-regional Warehouse in the event that they need material resources.”
He said ODPEM has also put measures in place to deploy Assessment Teams to support the aftermath in the Bahamas.
“The assessment teams will be asked to quickly assess the damage, identify the needs and begin the process of assisting their early recovery,” Jackson said. “We’ve also had dialogue with our contact within the Jamaica Defence Force and they are going to be having initial discussions internally to ensure that they themselves are ready.”
The OPDEM boss said that, if necessary, members of the JDF would be deployed as part of the Caribbean Disaster Relief Unit, which is a military deployment drawn from a number of islands in the Caribbean. The special team, he said, would likely be channeled through Jamaica and would provide additional, specialized support to the impacted states.
Jackson said the complete emergency and relief needs would become clearer after the passage of Irene.
“The situation is going to be dynamic, so we can only plan based on the scenarios we are examining. We have identified the sub-regional warehouse resources, which we currently hold here in Jamaica and we would be deploying that as necessary, as well as any other support that may be required,” he said.
The storm unleashed heavy rains across northern Haiti, causing flooding, the United Nations said Wednesday. There were no reports of major losses or damage, U.N. officials said.
In Puerto Rico, officials reported the death of a 62-year-old woman Tuesday as drenching rains from Irene soaked the U.S. Commonwealth country. She was trying to cross a bridge in a car over a flooded creek when the vehicle was inundated and she drowned.
The storm left widespread damage on the island, leaving 600,000 electric customers without power at its peak.
U.S. President Barack Obama has signed an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, providing for federal disaster assistance.