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Hurricane Omar heads for US Caribbean islands

Omar strengthened into a hurricane and took aim at the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico after drenching the southeastern Caribbean.

world Updated: Oct 15, 2008 10:07 IST

Omar strengthened into a hurricane and took aim at the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday after drenching the southeastern Caribbean. Authorities issued a hurricane warning for the US Virgin islands as well as Puerto Rico's Vieques and Culebra islands. Hurricane warnings were also in place for St. Martin, the British Virgin Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis and other islands. Officials in Puerto Rico, already soaked from several days of rain, warned residents to prepare for a lot more and medical authorities appealed for blood donations for possible casualties. Omar was a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph (120 kph) winds, and the US National Hurricane Center in Miami projected it to continue to gain strength.

The center predicted the storm would likely pass by Puerto Rico overnight Wednesday, and possibly deliver a direct blow to the nearby US and British Virgin Islands.

In the US Virgin Islands, residents scrambled to stock up on batteries, water and canned goods.

"I try my best to get everything I need and my family needs, so I don't get caught with my pants down," Darrell George said Tuesday afternoon at a St. Thomas supermarket, lugging an overloaded shopping cart. "With what has been going on lately, we can't take anything for granted."

Emergency management director Mark Walters urged islanders to take the warnings seriously.

"This is the time to take those precautions, in terms of getting your family and your personal selves ready for the storm," he said. Classes and ferry services were canceled in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

The hurricane center said Omar was expected to plow over the northeastern Caribbean islands then head into the central North Atlantic, well away from the US mainland.

At 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT) Tuesday, Omar's center was located about 315 miles (505 kilometers) south-southwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, according to the center. It was moving east-northeast at near 6 mph (9 kph).

Also Wednesday, the hurricane center said a separate tropical depression could turn into a tropical storm by night as it moves off the coast of northern Honduras.

First Published: Oct 15, 2008 10:03 IST