Hurricane Earl has become a major hurricane as it heads toward the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, bringing possible storm surges of a meter or more and rainfall of up to 20 centimeters.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday that Earl's sustained winds have increased from 175 kilometers per hour to as much as 195 kilometers per hour.
The storm is expected to strengthen further as it continues on a northwestern path that is expected to take it near or over the northernmost Virgin Islands sometime Monday. Hotels are shut tight against the storm, which has already lashed the Leeward Islands with heavy rains and strong winds.
A hurricane warning has been issued for the islands, including Anguilla, Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy, Saba and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
The weather service warns that the storm surge could raise water levels by as much as 60 to 120 centimeters, primarily near the coast, and heavy rainfall could bring on life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.
Islanders have set up emergency shelters, and airlines have canceled flights as the hurricane continues to strengthen. Cruise lines have diverted ships to avoid the storm's path.
Hardware stores have done a brisk business in plywood and boards, as residents and hotel employees fortify windows and doors against Earl.