Storm whips through Caribbean

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Tropical Storm Irene barreled toward Puerto Rico late Sunday after hitting St. Croix, packing heavy rains and winds that closed airports and flooded low-lying areas in the Leeward Islands.

The fast-moving storm, moving west-northwest at roughly 15 mph, was taking an unpredictable path that left people in the islands anxious about the winds and rain to come.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said that Irene was strengthening and could even become a hurricane before reaching Puerto Rico in the coming hours. Its maximum sustained winds late Sunday night were 70 mph and it was located 50 miles southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

On its current forecast track, Irene was expected to pass over Puerto Rico late Sunday and over Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, today or tonight. Nearly 600,000 people in Haiti still live without shelter after last year’s earthquake.

Puerto Rico’s main airport was swamped with people rushing to get off the island before the storm or stranded because flights to a number of other islands had been canceled.

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