A hurricane watch has been issued as Tropical Storm Bret threatens to devastate the Caribbean islands.
A hurricane watch has been issued for St Lucia as Tropical Storm Bret barrels toward the eastern Caribbean island at near-hurricane strength, battering the region with strong winds and rain.
The storm was located about 320 kilometers (200 miles) east of Barbados on Thursday morning and was moving west at 24 km/h (15 mph). It has maximum sustained winds of 110 km/h (70 mph), just below the 119 km/h (74 mph) winds of a Category 1 hurricane.
The storm is expected to begin affecting the eastern Caribbean islands later in the day, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
A special aircraft sent to investigate the storm on Wednesday found that Bret had grown slightly, with tropical-force winds extending up to 165km (105 miles) from its centre, according to the forecasters.
Airports, businesses, schools and offices closed in St Lucia and Dominica as forecasters warned of heavy downpours, landslides and flooding.
“Protect your life, property and livelihood,” urged St Lucia Prime Minister Philip Pierre.
Andre Joyeux, director of St Lucia’s Meteorological Services, said Bret was expected to cut directly across the island.
“We hope people will listen,” he said.
The hurricane center said there was up to three centimeters (10 inches) of rain forecast for the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe south to St Vincent and the Grenadines, including Barbados. Waves of up to four meters (13 feet) are also forecast for Guadeloupe, according to local meteorologists.
Bret is expected to lose strength once it enters the eastern Caribbean Sea, and it is forecast to dissipate by the end of the week.
However, the Caribbean is closely watching a tropical depression that follows Bret and has a 90 percent chance of forming.
If the depression strengthens into a hurricane, it will be the first time since record-keeping began that two storms have formed in the tropical Atlantic in June, according to meteorologist Philip Klotzbach of Colorado State University.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 12 to 17 typhoons for this year’s hurricane season. It says between five and nine of those storms will become hurricanes, including four major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher.