Heavy rains and hurricane-force winds shut down the twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda on Monday as Tropical Storm Gonzalo swept over the island downing power lines as well as causing floods in several areas.
Initial reports indicate that roofs were blown off several houses and residents reported downed trees, billboards, and power lines as well as flooding as the storm intensified.
Gonzalo, the seventh named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, also triggered an island-wide power outage and forced the closure of schools and businesses.
Director of Operations at the VC Bird International Airport (VCBIA) said the airport would remain close until 8.00 am (local time) Tuesday, resulting in the cancellation of several regional and international flights.
Forecaster at the Meteorological Services’ Office here, Orvin Paige, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that sustained winds were measured at 67 miles per hour (mph) with gusts as high as 88 mph.
“That’s hurricane force, so it’s getting serious,” Paige said.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne confirmed the activation of the National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in order to effectively manage the response to the storm. The EOc includes the National Office of Disaster Services, Police, the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force, Antigua public Utility authority and Emergency medical Services.
Social Transformation Minister Samantha Marshall confirmed that shelters open were in open the flood-prone communities of Bolans, Jennings, Pigotts and Green Bay.
“Based on recent updates we are asking persons to stay within their homes and those persons who need to move from vulnerable areas to seek first to move with family and friends, or if absolutely necessary to move to the shelters,” Marshall told CMC.
“The recent updates from the Met office suggest the storm is likely to become a hurricane be for e leaving our shores … protection of life is primary at this time so all are asked to stay indoors,” she added.
Meanwhile, local disaster officials are concerned that people who are not essential personnel are putting themselves and others in danger.
“We implore them to remain at home if they are not part of essential services because they are complicating our response,” Deputy Director of the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) Sherrod James said. He expressed concern that there were too many people seen out and about taking pictures and video.
In neighbouring St. Kitts-Nevis, the authorities there have announced the closure of government offices and schools and are urging residents to remain indoors as the storm passes through the chain of islands.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said that the storm was 10 miles north west of Antigua and that the authorities have issued a hurricane watch for the island.
A A hurricane watch remains in effect Puerto Rico, St. Martin and the United States Virgin islands, while a tropical storm warning remains in effect for several islands, including St. Barthelemy, St. Maartin, St. Eustatius, Saba, Anguilla, St. Kitts-Nevis as well as Montserrat.
NHC said that the storm is moving towards the west-northwest near 10 mph and will move into the northeastern Caribbean Sea later on Monday.
It is also expected to be “near or over the Virgin islands tonight or Tuesday, the NHC added.