U.S. weather forecasters say the first Atlantic hurricane of the 2011 season is taking aim at the Bahamas and it is expected to become a strong storm.
The Bahamian government has issued warnings and watches for parts of the country as Hurricane Irene swirls near Hispaniola, the island comprising Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
In its latest bulletin, the National Hurricane Center in Miami says Irene is about 100 kilometers north-northwest of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, moving in a west-northwesterly direction. Forecasters say that on its current track, the core of the storm will be near or over the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas on Tuesday, and near the Central Bahamas early Wednesday.
The storm is expected to move just to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which have issued alerts.
The Dominican government ordered evacuations of vulnerable coastal areas and prepared more than 1 million food rations for the population.
The United Nations said its personnel in Haiti have begun operations to raise public awareness about the storm and assess evacuation needs. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians remain in makeshift shelters after a devastating earthquake last year.
Forecasters also predict Irene will move northwest along the east coast of the U.S. state of Florida later in the week before possible landfall as a major hurricane in South Carolina.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is urging people along coastal areas of the southeastern U.S. to closely monitor the hurricane and prepare for potential severe weather in the coming days.
Irene intensified into a hurricane over Puerto Rico before dawn Monday, flooding streets, knocking down trees and cutting power to about 1 million residents. There were no reports of serious injuries.
Puerto Rico’s governor, Luis Fortuno, declared a state of emergency to mobilize aid from the U.S. federal government. Schools, government offices and businesses in the territory remained closed Monday.