Hurricane Earl Gains Strength in Caribbean; Moving North

August 31, 2010

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(5 a.m. EDT) -- Hurricane Earl is now moving away from the northeastern Caribbean, its winds and rains having taken down power lines, left buildings roof-less and caused flooding on several islands. Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean and NCL have announced storm-related itinerary changes.

Earl, the fifth named storm of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, strengthened into a Category Four Storm yesterday as maximum sustained winds increased to 135 miles per hour. According to the National Hurricane Center's (NHC) 5 a.m. update, the storm is some 150 miles north-northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and is moving west-northwest at about 13 m.p.h. The center of the Earl is expected to pass east of Turks and Caicos on Tuesday night and Wednesday.

As Earl gradually moves out of the Caribbean, numerous islands have reduced the severity of the storm warnings or discontinued them altogether. The hurricane warning has been dropped for St. Maarten, and reduced from a hurricane warning to a tropical storm warning in the British Virgin Islands (includes Antigua) and the U.S. Virgin Islands (includes St. Thomas). The hurricane watch has also been discontinued for Puerto Rico.

First-hand reports continue to surface on sites like StormCarib and Twitter, where Caribbean residents are posting photos and updates. Steve Donahue, who lives on Anguilla, posted yesterday 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."

NBC news is reporting that "residents on the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten said Earl brought rain, wind and pounding seas on the coast, causing power outages and knocking down trees. There were also some reports of homes losing their roofs."

According to a Reuters report, 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.

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 is sailing a Western Caribbean route to Cozumel, Belize, Roatan and Costa Maya.

Carnival Pride, which left from Baltimore Sunday, 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 is no longer calling in St. Maarten this coming Saturday and its St. Thomas stop has been moved. The ship remained at sea on Monday instead of visiting St. Thomas as originally planned, and 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 last Thursday, called on San Juan on Sunday. On Monday, visited Samana, Dominican Republic instead of St. Thomas, as originally scheduled. It will stop in Labadee today (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 made an extended visit to Nassau on Sunday, will 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 called on CocoCay, Bahamas on Monday, as scheduled, will 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 Saturday. 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, which departed New York as scheduled on Sunday, August 29, may have to make 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

According to the NHC, tropical storm conditions are expected to gradually subside over the British and U.S. Virgin Islands today. Tropical storm conditions should materialize in Turks & Caicos later today, and a tropical storm warning is now in effect for Turks & Caicos. A tropical storm watch for the southeastern Bahamas has also been added. 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 and Canada 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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