NASA satellite image shows Hurricane Irene approaching the Bahamas
NASA satellite image shows Hurricane Irene approaching the Bahamas NASA

The Category 3 Hurricane Irene is pounding Mayaguana and Little Inagua of the Bahamas and is expected to increase in intensity as it inexorably moves northwest-ward.

The entire Bahamas, comprising 29 islands, 661 cays, and 2,387 islets, remains under a hurricane watch.

The storm has carried maximum sustained winds of 115 mph with gusts of 130 mph.

Trevor Basden, senior deputy director of the department of meteorology, told the Nassau Guardian newspaper that the Bahamas will endure tropical storm winds until Thursday morning. Hurricane-force winds are expected to slate the islands throughout Wednesday.

Forecasters are also warning Bahamians of the possibility of extremely dangerous storm surge that could push up water levels by as much as seven to 11 feet above normal tide levels over the Central and Northwest Bahamas; and by as much as five to eight feet in the Southeastern Bahamas.

The surge will be accompanied by large and dangerous waves, forecasters stated.

Rainfall accumulations of between 6 to 12 inches is also expected – creating the likelihood of severe flooding in low-lying coastal regions.

On Tuesday evening, officials of the National Emergency Management Agency urged residents in Lovely Bay and Chester's and Acklins to evacuate low-lying areas and areas prone to flooding.

Meanwhile, tourists are either preparing to depart the islands or battening down the hatches.

Alex Rivera, the manager at Club Med in San Salvador, told The Guardian, “We’re really busy right now. People are being given food and we’re sending people to their rooms. The weather is definitely starting to take a turn for the worse. We feel it changing.”

Rivera said Club Med has already arranged a charter flight to evacuate more than 160 French travelers off the island – but they were unable to charter a second plane, leaving 274 people stranded, including 185 Americans.

“People are staying calm right now,” said Rivera. They have food, games and flashlights. We’re just trying to work fast here.”

However, several airports in the Bahamas – including the Lynden Pindling International Airport and the Grand Bahamas International Airport -- have already shut down operations temporarily due to the hurricane threat.