BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Residents of Barbados (search) prepared to become a speed bump in the path of Tropical Storm Emily on Wednesday with the storm forecast to pass over the Caribbean's easternmost island before becoming a hurricane.
Islanders snapped up stores of food, water and emergency supplies Tuesday, although by early Wednesday morning the Barbados government had downgraded its hurricane warning to a tropical storm warning.
The outer bands of the storm hit the Windward Islands (search) Wednesday morning.
Hurricane warnings were still in effect for islands to the west, including Tobago (search), Grenada, the Grenadines, St. Vincent and St. Lucia, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, and tropical storm-force winds were forecast to hit Venezuela's northern coast.
By 5 a.m. Wednesday, Emily was about 200 miles southeast of Barbados, packing maximum sustained winds of 60 mph that were expected to strengthen within 24 hours, the center said.
Emily trails Hurricane Dennis, which destroyed crops and killed at least 22 people in Cuba and Haiti last week.
Dennis also disrupted oil supply in the Gulf of Mexico, and oil prices traded above $60 a barrel Wednesday over concerns about continuing hurricane-related problems.
Light sweet crude for August delivery rose 8 cents to $60.70 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange in electronic trading. On London's International Petroleum Exchange, August Brent rose 15 cents to $58.97 a barrel.
The front-month Nymex crude futures contract had its peak settlement of $61.28 on July 6, when storm-related power outages disrupted some oil production and refining operations in the gulf, stirring up fears about lost output at a time of strong global demand.
As Emily approached, Grenada's government opened 36 shelters and islanders rushed to stock up on food, water, batteries, plywood and other supplies. Kathleen Bonaparte, a supermarket supervisor in the capital of St. George's, said her store was nearly out of canned goods and batteries.
Grenada still has not recovered from last year's Hurricane Ivan, which killed 39 people and left a wasteland of ruined buildings. Some people still have no roofs, and some children still are taught under tarps.
"I don't want to find myself in a situation like Ivan," said Charmaine Thomas, a 35-year-old mother of two waiting in line at Bonaparte's store. "I wasn't prepared. This time I'm taking no chances."
Emily's storm force winds extended 85 miles from its center, the hurricane center said. It was expected to dump up to 6 inches of rain on the Windward Islands, the center said.