Latin America & Caribbean

Hurricane Earl gains strength in eastern Caribbean

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Media captionScott Stripling from the National Hurricane Centre told the BBC what should be expected from Hurricane Earl

A storm moving through the eastern Caribbean has strengthened to a category-four hurricane, causing power outages and dumping heavy rain.

So far, Caribbean islands have been spared major damage from Hurricane Earl, and the storm has now passed by the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The hurricane is expected to gain more strength before heading towards the US.

Forecasters say it is a major hurricane and could cause "catastrophic" damage if it hits land.

The hurricane is generating sustained winds of 215km/h (135mph).

It is currently north-east of Puerto Rico, and moving west-northwest at about 24km/h, the US-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) says.

The storm skirted around Puerto Rico early on Tuesday, the US territory's governor said.

"We were quite fortunate because there was no direct hit in this case," Luis Fortuno told CNN.

Homes damaged

He said about 174,000 people lost power and 33,000 were left without water.

The centre of the storm is now expected to pass to the east of the Turks and Caicos on Tuesday night.

Hurricane warnings in place on several islands in the region have now been degraded.

However, Earl caused heavy rains and flooding in low-lying areas, and it damaged homes on several islands including Antigua and Barbuda.

Several countries reported power outages. Cruise ships were diverted and flights cancelled across the region.

The NHC said it was too early to say what effect Earl would have on the eastern US coast later in the week, but it warned coastal residents from North Carolina to Maine to watch the storm's path.

Earl is being closely followed by Tropical Storm Fiona, currently east of the Leeward Isles with winds of up to 65km/h.

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