MIAMI (CBS4) – Hurricane Irene is forecasted to pass over or near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas by Tuesday night and be near the central Bahamas early Wednesday.

Forecasters said the hurricane could grow to a monstrous Category 4 storm with winds of more than 131 mph before it’s predicted to come ashore this weekend on the U.S. mainland. The last hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. was Ike, which pounded Texas in 2008.

Hurricane Irene remains a Category 2 hurricane Tuesday and is likely to become a major Category 3 hurricane by Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center but the threat to South Florida is decreasing.

Irene is slowly moving away from the coast of the Dominican Republic and heading toward the southeast Bahamas, according to CBS4 Meteorologist Craig Setzer.

“The closest approach will be Thursday afternoon when tropical storm force winds are possible,” Setzer said.  “A jog to the left for Irene would mean stronger winds with hurricane force gusts possible.”

On the forecast track, the core of Irene will move near or over the Turks and Caicos Islands late Tuesday afternoon, over the southeastern Bahamas Tuesday evening and near the central Bahamas early Wednesday.

The Bahamas, known for its tourism and many resorts, will see those same tourists attempting to head out of the island with resorts making the effort to accommodate and reimburse them during this time.

Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas and One&Only Ocean Club, with its usual occupancy, has already advised guests to seek flights out. Incoming guests are advised to adjust their travel plans and the resort will provide a credit for future stay.

“Our policy as it relates to guests arriving Tuesday, 8/23 – Thursday 8/25, who have not purchased travel insurance with us requires that you contact us at 800 ATLANTIS to revise your travel dates or to arrange a credit for the amount of your hotel stay to be held on file for future travel within one year,” the resort’s Web page advised. “Our goal is to provide the best customer service to each of our guests and please know that, if you are not able to reach us immediately, we will honor the policy stated above when you do reach our customer service representative.”

On Monday night, the resort issued an advisory to guests to prepare them ahead of time for the hurricane.

“We are also expecting Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau to close on Wednesday, possibly as early as noon. As you know, the safety of our guests and staff is always our foremost concern, so we would urge any guests with arrivals over the next 72 hours to speak with the travel specialist with whom they booked their trip to revise their travel plans. Atlantis and the Ocean Club will not be accepting any new arrivals until Friday, August 26th,” according to the site.

Superclubs Breezes Resort & Spa on the island, like other resorts, also has a hurricane policy. On property guests receive a reimbursement for the total value of disrupted nights. In addition, a voucher for a future stay will be issued for the same number of disrupted nights for use during the same month the following year, excluding airfare.

Although resorts will honor their booking fee during the hurricane, that may not be the case for air travel companies.

The Ministry of Tourism is “working closely with industry partners to request that change fees are waived and to extend all possible courtesies to those affected in accordance with the industry’s recommended Hurricane Cancellation policy affecting guests and those with reservations,” according to the island’s official Web site.

As a result of Hurricane Irene, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport cancelled flights to Port au Prince, Haiti, according to Gregory Meyer with Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Delays are also seen for flights to the Bahamas.

“We have some delayed flights to Nassau but no cancellations at this time,” he said. “The Aviation Department has been advised that we can expect cancellations tomorrow. We have a total of 16 flights a day to the Bahamas.”

As of 3 p.m. there were 14 arrival cancellations and ninedeparture cancellations at Miami International Airport due to Hurricane Irene, according to Marc T. Henderson of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department.

While the Bahamas is preparing for Irene, other surrounding islands were already affected by the hurricane.

President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico in the wake of  Hurricane Irene. The declaration means federal disaster assistance will be made available to the U.S. commonwealth which suffered widespread damage from the storm but no reported deaths.

Irene, the first hurricane of the Atlantic storm season, pummeled Puerto Rico Monday with 75 mile per hour winds and steady rainfall.

The National Hurricane Center said there is widespread tree and power line damage on the island. More than 800,000 homes are without power and roughly 28-percent of the island is without running water, according to Emergency Operations Director Mauricio Rivera.

Nearly 800 people were in shelters during the storm, but no injuries had been reported.

Hurricane Irene also churned just north of the Dominican Republic early Tuesday, lashing the Caribbean nation with 100 mph winds and heavy rain, the National Hurricane Center said.

Hundreds of people were displaced by flooding in the Dominican Republic, forced to take refuge in churches, schools and relatives’ homes. Electricity also was cut in some areas.

“Everything filled with water, there was just water everywhere,” said Maria Altagracia Fernandez, who spent Monday night sleeping on the floor with her five children and about 100 other people at a shelter in the fishing town of Boba, 135 miles northeast of Santo Domingo.

The current direction of Irene is good news for South Florida as forecasters at the NHC said the first Atlantic hurricane of the season could become a Category 4 with winds of 131 mph or more by Thursday as it roars toward the U.S. coast over warm open waters.


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