East Coast officials cast wary eye on approaching Hurricane Irma

Projected path of Hurricane Irma as of morning of September 4, 2017. (National Hurricane Center)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CBS/AP) — Government workers on the islands of the eastern Caribbean are clearing drains and pruning trees as authorities urge residents to prepare for Hurricane Irma, a powerful Category 3 storm likely to begin buffeting that area Tuesday.

The possibility that the storm could eventually turn its wrath on the U.S. East Coast has officials of the American Red Cross concerned.

They tell CBS Raleigh, North Carolina affiliate WNCN-TV the need for assistance in Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is still high, but the Red Cross’ focus and resources might shift toward North Carolina, based on what Irma does.

“We put a hold on sending volunteers from the Mid-Atlantic states,” Red Cross Regional Executive Officer Barry Porter told WNCN. “There is still a lot of other states to send volunteers from, but because of this pending threat to Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, we’ve asked those volunteers to hold, update their records, and help us here in the Carolinas if we need them.”

The Antigua and Barbuda weather service said Irma was expected to bring heavy rains, rough surf and high winds. Hurricane watches were posted for Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Monserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin, Guadeloupe and the British Virgin Islands.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said islands farther north, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, should monitor the progress of the storm and be prepared for Irma possibly to head their direction.

The U.S. hurricane center said Irma had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph Monday morning and some strengthening was expected through Tuesday night. The storm was centered about 610 miles east of the Leeward Islands and moving west-southwest at 14 mph.

Long-range forecasts indicated Irma likely would curve to the northwest beginning late Monday and skirt to the north of the islands in the eastern Caribbean on a path that could potentially take it to the U.S. East Coast, but it was too early to make a definitive prediction.

Antigua’s prime minister, Gaston Browne, urged people to take preventative measures in case the storm should keep on its current arc, saying that should include cleaning drains and removing objects that could be sent flying by high winds. Workers began pruning trees and shrubs to reduce chances for branches to tear down power and phone lines.

“The passage of a hurricane is not a matter to be taken lightly, but we must not panic,” Browne said in a statement.

Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricard Rossello, said government agencies in the U.S. territory were prepared to deal with any emergencies caused by the storm.

“We have established protocols for the safety of all,” he said at a news conference, while he also urged islanders to take precautions.

In the Dominican Republic, Public Works Minister Gonzalo Castillo said workers there were clearing away road works and also cleaning out blockages of sewer drains. He said President Danilo Medina would hold a meeting with emergencies agencies Monday to discuss storm preparations.

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