World: Forecasters: Chris to drench Puerto Rico, become hurricane
San Juan, Puerto Rico — Tourists evacuated two small islands off the coast of Puerto Rico on Wednesday as Tropical Storm Chris gained strength in the eastern Caribbean and was expected to become the first hurricane of the Atlantic season.
The storm had top sustained winds of 65 mph as it skirted the northern Leeward Islands and moved west-northwest toward the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
A hurricane watch was issued for the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the National Hurricane Center said. The watch issued at 11 a.m. EDT meant hurricane conditions of winds of at least 74 mph were possible within 36 hours.
The storm was expected to pass at least 100 miles north of Puerto Rico, but up to 8 inches of rain was likely to cause flash floods and mudslides, authorities in the U.S. territory warned.
“We’ll see the effects of heavy rain and wind gusts from the periphery of the system,” said Rafael Mojica, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Some 600 tourists evacuated Culebra and Vieques, islands off Puerto Rico’s east coast.
“Everybody left,” said Jacinto Jiminez, owner of a hotel on Culebra, about 17 miles offshore. “Whenever there is a storm warning they try to get most of the people out.”
Puerto Rico’s consumer affairs agency dispatched dozens of inspectors to ensure stores complied with an order to freeze prices on basic necessities.
There were no reports of major damage or injuries as Chris swirled past the Leeward Islands.
In Anguilla, the storm caused heavy rain and strong winds overnight but the storm was much less severe than expected because it shifted to the north at the last minute, said Elizabeth Klute, director of the disaster management agency for the British Caribbean territory.
“It just kind of skirted us,” Klute said. “It’s moving on.
People in the islands of Antigua and St. Maarten awoke to a light rain. There were no reports of major flooding or other damage from the storm.
Forecasters said the storm could hit anywhere from south of Cuba to Florida by late this weekend.
The first named storm of the 2006 season, Tropical Storm Alberto, swept over Florida in mid-June, then plowed northward along the U.S. coast past the Outer Banks. It was blamed for one death.
Last year’s hurricane season was the worst in more than 150 years of records. A record number of tropical storms and hurricanes formed, including the devastating Hurricane Katrina.
Associated Press writers John Pain in Miami, Marvin Hokstam in St. Maarten, Colin James in Antigua and Clive Bacchus in St. Kitts contributed to this report.
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