Powerful and dangerous Hurricane Ivan churned off the Venezuelan coast, shuttering airports nationwide, sparking mudslides and closing many roads, authorities said as more Caribbean islands braced for its furious arrival.
The "extremely dangerous" Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 220 kilometers (140 miles) per hour, was moving at 26 kilometers (16 miles) per hour toward the west-northwest, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said at 1800 GMT.
It 165 kilometers (105 miles) northeast of the Caribbean island of Bonaire, the center said. Ivan was 1,190 kilometers (740 miles) from Jamaica.
Several Venezuelan airports, including the oil-exporting country's main international airport, Maiquetia, which serves Caracas, suspended operations until conditions improve, Air Force colonel Francisco Paz Freitas told Union Radio.
Another official said one person was hurt and 150 affected by floods in parts of the country, says the Channel News Asia.
According to the Bloomberg, the storm is expected to maintain its present course for the next 24 hours, the hurricane center said.
Ivan gained strength late yesterday as it entered the Caribbean, its winds increasing to 135 mph from 115 mph.
The preliminary storm track provided by the center showed that Ivan might reach western Cuba by Sunday morning. Hurricane watches probably will be issued in the next 12 to 24 hours for Cuba, St. Croix and the Cayman Islands, Pralgo said.
Forecasters said it was too early to say whether Ivan will reach the coast of Florida, which has been hit by two major hurricanes, Charley and Frances, in a month.
"It's still very early, and we don't want to give a false sense of fear," Pralgo said. "Some of the models have it going to Florida, some have it passing to the east of Florida, some to the west in the Gulf of Mexico."
"For now, the people in Florida need to take warning and maybe not take down the shutters until we know where it's going exactly," she said.
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