Caribbean getting pounded by Hurricane Omar

A weakening Hurricane Omar veered away from the northern Leeward Islands in the Caribbean Thursday morning after crossing over them as a Category 3 storm.

The storm, with sustained winds of 185 km/h, is moving north of St. Martin, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center in a 7 a.m. ET update.

Hurricane warnings for the Leeward Islands, the northern islands of the Lesser Antilles, have been discontinued as the storm moves farther into the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean and weakens.

The storm could still produce up to 500 millimetres of rain in some areas, particularly across the Leeward Islands, the centre said.

Waves could be large, with storm surges of more than a metre above normal tide levels.

“These rains could produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides,” the hurricane centre warned.

Overnight, the storm passed between St. Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It knocked down trees, caused mudslides and flooding, said Mark Walters, director of the U.S. Virgin Islands disaster management agency.

A 55-year-old man in Puerto Rico died of a heart attack Wednesday night while preparing his home for the approaching hurricane.

The nearby British Virgin Islands also emerged largely unscathed, said Deputy Gov. Inez Archibald, noting there was little damage beyond some mudslides and scattered debris.

“We did reasonably well actually,” Archibald told the Associated Press. “We did not get what we expected.”

The hurricane, which dumped heavy rain on islands in the southeastern Caribbean this week, knocked down trees and blew a roof off a school in Aruba, about 30 kilometres north of Venezuela.

Hurricane Omar forced at least three cruise ships to divert course. Flights were cancelled on several islands.