Tropical Storm Earl Hits Caribbean

Tropical Storm Earl (search) unleashed heavy rains and violent winds that felled trees and ripped off roofs Sunday in the eastern Caribbean, while hundreds of people sought refuge in shelters.

Several hundred people fled their homes in low-lying areas of Grenada (search) and moved to shelters set up in schools, said Sylvan McIntyre, chief of the island's emergency agency.

Winds tore off about a dozen roofs throughout the country and flooding was reported in western Grenada, McIntyre said. A nursing home was evacuated, and more than 30 residents were moved to a shelter. No injuries were reported.

In nearby St. Vincent and the Grenadines, officials said winds destroyed the roofs off at least two homes and damaged banana crops, while some residents fled for shelters. Airports were temporarily closed in St. Vincent and Grenada.

Shopkeepers nailed boards over their windows before the powerful wind and rains reached Grenada's capital of St. George's.

The tropical storm, the fifth of the Atlantic season, could strengthen to a hurricane in the coming days over the open Caribbean Sea, said Jamie Rhome, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center (search) in Miami. If it does reach hurricane strength — with winds of at least 74 mph — it would be the season's fourth hurricane.

Earl's path could take it anywhere between Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and Belize to the east-central Gulf of Mexico in four to five days, Rhome said, adding that Jamaica and parts of Cuba also might feel the effects before then. "The realm of possible outcomes is very large," Rhome said.

Earl was sustaining winds of 45 mph at 2 p.m. and was centered 90 miles west of Grenada, according to the hurricane center.

The storm's winds knocked down trees and power lines in Tobago on Saturday night, for a time cutting up to 90 percent of the island's electricity, said Col. Dave Williams, director of the national emergency agency. Crews were working to restore electricity, he said.

Up to 5 inches of rain was forecast in some areas. Gusts of up to 49 mph were reported in St. Lucia.

Earl was moving west at 28 mph, with tropical storm-force winds extending up to 85 miles from the center.

Meanwhile, Charley dissipated near New England after raging through Florida as a hurricane on Friday, killing at least 16 people there. Earlier, Charley killed at least four people in Cuba and one in Jamaica.