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(11:15 a.m. EDT) -- Hurricane Earl, the fifth named storm of the 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season, is passing through the Eastern and Southern Caribbean as a major hurricane, bringing powerful winds and rain and causing flooding on several islands. Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean and NCL have announced storm-related itinerary changes.
Earl strengthened into a Category Three Storm earlier today as maximum sustained winds increased to 120 miles per hour. According to the National Hurricane Center's (NHC) 11 a.m. update, the storm is some 95 miles east-northeast of St. Thomas and 165 miles east of San Juan, and hurricane warnings remain in effect for numerous islands, including Anguilla, St. Maarten, St. Barth's, Tortola and St. Thomas. A "hurricane warning" means that hurricane conditions are expected within 12 hours.
First-hand reports are beginning to trickle in on sites like StormCarib and Twitter, where Caribbean residents are posting photos and updates. Steve Donahue, who lives on Anguilla, writes on Storm Carib: "Just walked out on front (east) deck, stuck my head around corner and was literally blown over. Saw my kayak flying across the yard."
According to Reuters, in Antigua, "some flooding in low-lying areas appeared to be the biggest problem caused. Reuters also noted that residents in St. Kitts reported wind, rain and rough seas but there were no immediate reports of serious damage. It appears Antigua and St. Kitt's have been spared the worst of the storm.
Cruise Ship Itinerary Changes
Carnival Cruise Lines has changed the itinerary for Carnival Dream, which departed from Port Canaveral on Saturday. Instead of sailing an Eastern Caribbean cruise with stops in Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maarten, the ship will sail a Western Caribbean route and visit Cozumel, Belize, Roatan and Costa Maya.
Carnival Pride, which left from Baltimore today, will no longer visit Grand Turk on Wednesday as originally planned. The itinerary will now include Port Canaveral (Wednesday), Nassau (Thursday) and Freeport (Friday).
Carnival Victory will change the sequence of ports and will no longer call in St. Maarten. The ship will remain at sea tomorrow instead of visiting St. Thomas as originally planned. Victory will now call in St. Thomas next Saturday before concluding the cruise in San Juan on Sunday (on schedule).
Royal Caribbean has altered the itineraries of Oasis of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas. Enchantment, which left Baltimore on Thursday, will call on San Juan tomorrow. On Monday, it will visit Samana, Dominican Republic instead of St. Thomas, as originally scheduled. It will stop in Labadee on Tuesday and spend Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at sea as it returns to Baltimore on Saturday.
Oasis will be unable to make its scheduled port calls in St. Thomas on Tuesday and St. Maarten on Wednesday. Instead, the ship will make an extended visit to Nassau on Sunday, spend Monday and Tuesday at sea, and call on Costa Maya on Wednesday and Cozumel on Thursday. It will then spend Friday at sea as it returns to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, as scheduled.
Freedom of the Seas, which left Port Canaveral on August 29, will be unable to make its scheduled port calls to St. Thomas on Wednesday and St. Maarten on Thursday. The ship will call on CocoCay, Bahamas on Monday, as scheduled, spend Tuesday at sea, and call in Grand Cayman on Wednesday. On Thursday, Freedom will visit Cozumel. The ship will then spend Friday and Saturday at sea as it returns to Port Canaveral on Sunday as scheduled.
NCL has changed the itinerary for Norwegian Epic, which left from Miami today. The ship will now call in Cozumel and Roatan in place of St. Maarten and St. Thomas. Epic's call in Nassau on Friday has been extended.
A statement on NCL's Web site says that Norwegian Dawn will depart New York as scheduled on Sunday, August 29, but there is a possibility of an itinerary change depending on the storm's path.
Representatives from Princess Cruises and Disney Cruise Line say that there are no changes for their respective ships. Emerald Princess is sailing in the Western Caribbean (outside the current scope of the storm); Disney Wonder is sailing a Bahamas and Florida cruise.
Weather Outlook: Next Affected Ships & Ports
As previously noted, hurricane warnings remain in effect for various Caribbean islands, including St. Thomas, Tortola, St. Maarten and Anguilla. Hurricane conditions are expected in the next 12 hours. A hurricane watch is in effect for Puerto Rico, which means that hurricane conditions are possible within the next 12 hours, but the current NHC storm track has the center of Earl passing to the east of Puerto Rico. The government of the Bahamas has also issued a tropical storm watch for Turks & Caicos. According to the NHC, a tropical storm watch means that tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area, generally within 48 hours.
Of equal note is the fact that current NHC projections have the storm skirting the East Coast of the United States on Friday and Saturday. The outer bands of the storm are currently forecast to reach the coast of North Carolina late Thursday night or early Friday morning, and the storm is then expected to move roughly parallel to the East Coast on Friday and Saturday. We'll keep you posted on cruise ships departing from East Coast homeports.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor
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Hurricane Earl Hammering the Caribbean, Impacting Cruises