Jul 9, 2013 12:39 PM by AP (PHOTO COURTESY: MGN ONLINE)
ROSEAU, Dominica (AP) - Tropical Storm Chantal raced toward the small islands of the Lesser Antilles on Tuesday, with officials in Dominica already reporting heavy winds that ripped off the roofs of several homes.
The storm was centered about 55 miles (85 kilometers) northwest of St. Lucia around 11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. The storm had maximum sustained winds 60 mph (95 kph), and was moving west-northwest at 29 mph (46 kph).
"It's getting rough out there," said Conrad Ceasar, an emergency management official for Dominica's southern region. "Some parts of the island are without electricity."
The government cancelled the country's ferry service and closed airports as the storm neared, and National Security Minister Charles Savarin said government offices would close at noon. "Chantal is a serious storm," he said.
No injuries from Chantal have been reported in Dominica, or anywhere else in the region.
Chantal was expected to move over the small islands on the eastern rim of the Caribbean early Tuesday and be near the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, according to the Hurricane Center.
Chantal could be near hurricane strength before it reaches Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Both countries are vulnerable to flooding and landslides from storms, but widespread deforestation and ramshackle housing in Haiti mean even moderate rains pose a significant threat.
In St. Lucia's capital of Castries, supermarkets stayed open late Monday as islanders stocked up on emergency supplies including water and batteries.
The government ordered a midday closure of all schools until Wednesday. The director of the local meteorological office warned that parts of the island could potentially be affected by landslides and flooding.
In a national address Monday evening, Prime Minister Kenny Anthony urged people to hunker down at home until the tropical storm passed.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for St. Lucia, Dominica, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and the entire coast of the Dominican Republic and the north coast of Haiti.
A tropical storm watch was in effect for Haiti, the Turks and Caicos, the southeastern Bahamas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Vieques and Culebra.
In Barbados, officials urged people to stay indoors and tune to radio stations to prepare for Chantal, the Atlantic hurricane season's third named storm.
Subramanyam Chandra, a 47-year-old pharmaceutical businessman from Toronto, Canada, said he hadn't been able to meet with clients as he had planned.
"I knew there was a storm, but I didn't know it would be that serious for me not to be able to work," he said. "The main purpose of this visit was to meet customers face-to-face."
In Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the U.S. Coast Guard urged all waterfront facilities to remove unsecured debris, hazardous material and pollutants from dockside areas. Pleasure craft operators were advised to seek safe harbor and secure their vessels.
Both U.S. territories have already experienced heavy rainfall since June, nearly double the average for that period, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.
The storm was expected to produce rain and strong winds in Puerto Rico, with gusts of up to 60 mph (96 kph) in southern and mountainous areas, according to Roberto Garcia, director of the National Weather Service on the island of 3.7 million inhabitants. Chantal was expected to pass more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Puerto Rico early Wednesday.
Municipalities along Puerto Rico's southern and southwest regions will shutter government offices at noon on Tuesday, according to the island's emergency management agency. Authorities also closed the popular El Yunque rain forest near the northeast coast until further notice.