Hurricane Irene strengthens, puts Bahamas in its sights
Hurricane Irene has strengthened and could become a Category 3 as it slams into Bahamas, Tuesday.
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During the storm's march through the region, Academy Award-winning actress Kate Winslet and others escaped uninjured when a blaze gutted Richard Branson's home on his private isle in the British Virgin Islands.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Hurricane Irene
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According to Branson, about 20 people, including Winslet and her young children, were staying in his eight-bedroom Great House on Necker Island when the fire broke out around 4 a.m. amid the storm's lightning and high winds.
By late Monday night, Irene was centered about 100 miles (155 kms) east of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (155 kph). Hurricane specialist John Cangialosi said it could become a Category 4 storm within 72 hours.
In the overseas U.K. territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands, located in the Atlantic between the Bahamas and Haiti, there was a steady stream of customers buying plywood and nails at hardware stores, while others readied storm shutters and emergency kits at home.
On the island of Grand Turk, where Hurricane Ike damaged roughly 95 percent of homes in September 2008, Peter White was taking no chances as the sparsely populated territory was slowly covered by iron-gray skies on Monday afternoon.
"We've loaded up on water and rations and our shutters are ready to go up. Bad memories of Ike are a big reason why we get so prepared now," White said from the Breezy Brea area along the eastern coast of Grand Turk.
In Puerto Rico, 600 crews spread out across the island to repair toppled light poles, and the majority of customers were expected to have power by late Monday, power company spokesman Carlos Monroig said. Schools, most government offices and many businesses remained closed. Flights resumed at the international airport in San Juan by midmorning.
The storm entered through the southeast coastal town of Humacao, but emergency management regional director Orlando Diaz said the damage seemed to be less than he feared.
"We thought things were going to be a bit more tragic," he said. "I was surprised that we didn't see the amount of rain I expected."
Associated Press writers Megan Reynolds in Nassau, Bahamas, Danica Coto and Ben Fox in San Juan, Puerto Rico, David McFadden in Kingston, Jamaica, Kelli Kennedy in Miami and Bruce Smith in Charleston, South Carolina contributed to this report.