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Hurricane Bill gathers strength out in Atlantic


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The first hurricane of the Atlantic season loomed far out in the ocean Tuesday, gaining power and moving on a track that forecasters said could take it close to Bermuda by the end of the week.

Hurricane Bill was expected to become a major storm in the next couple of days, with winds topping 110 mph (177 kph), following on the heels of two relatively weak systems that did little more than drop rain on the northeastern Caribbean and the Florida Panhandle. It had become a Category 2 storm Monday with winds whipping at 100 mph (160 kph) as it moved on a track expected to be near Bermuda by the end of the week.

Early Tuesday, Bill was centered about 810 miles (1,305 kilometers) east of the Leeward Islands and moving west-northwest near 17 mph (28kph).

Bill was a large system, about 300 miles across, so Bermuda faces a potential threat even if the Atlantic island avoids a direct hit.

“We are keeping an eye on it for sure,” said Nick Camizzi a forecaster with the British territory’s weather service.

It was too soon to tell if Bill might threaten the eastern coast of the United States or how the storm would behave beyond the next four or five days.

“The system is certainly large and eventually will be a powerful hurricane,” said John Cangialosi, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

What began as Tropical Storm Ana, the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, weakened into a tropical depression and then dissipated altogether as it swept past the Leeward Islands, U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, apparently moving too quickly to cause more than minor flooding.

Along the Florida Panhandle, Tropical Storm Claudette quickly weakened after it made landfall at Fort Walton Beach. By late Monday, much of the rain and storms had ceased and all flood watches and warnings had expired. Milligan and Crestview, Fla., saw the most rain with about 4.5 inches. Other areas in Florida, Alabama and Georgia got 1 to 4 inches.

Tropical storm watches were canceled, but Ana still posed a potential threat to Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic where impoverished riverside communities are extremely vulnerable to flooding.

Dominican authorities evacuated more than 100 people from areas at risk for flooding and mudslide, but the rains turned out lighter than expected as the system broke apart Monday night.

“We thought it would rain much more than it has. Thank God it hasn’t rained that much,” said Rafael Alejo, a 34-year-old construction worker in Santo Domingo, the capital.

Dominican authorities maintained a flooding alert for 12 provinces in the east, warning that Ana could drop up to 6 inches (150 millimeters) of rain in some areas.

“As of now the rivers are rising above their normal levels, but nonetheless we do not have flooding, thank God,” said Carlos Paulino, a deputy director of the Center for Emergency Operations in Santo Domingo.

Officials in neighboring Haiti, devastated last year by four successive storms that killed some 800 people and caused $1 billion in damage, said they were relieved Ana had weakened. But people were warned to continue exercising caution around rivers and coastal areas.

Earlier Monday, rain from Ana flooded highways in Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, and three schools closed as a precaution in the northern coastal city of Arecibo.

A man in his mid-20s died after being pulled from the surf along the Florida Panhandle as Claudette approached Sunday. In Bay County, Fla., authorities searched for another man whose boat ran aground Sunday night, though they believed he made it ashore. Neither man’s identity was released.

Far out in the Pacific, Hurricane Guillermo weakened to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds near 45 mph. Guillermo was centered about 490 miles northeast of Hilo, Hawaii, and moving northwest near 21 mph.


Associated Press writers Dionisio Soldevilla in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla., and Kelli Kennedy in Miami contributed to this report.


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