Friday, August 1, 2014
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Tropical Storm Bertha swirled through the eastern Caribbean on Friday as it unleashed heavy rains and strong winds in the region, knocking out power on some islands.
The storm's maximum sustained winds increased slightly Friday to 50 mph (85 kph), but no significant change in strength is expected in the next two days. Bertha was centered about 40 miles (70 kilometers) west-southwest of Dominica and was moving west-northwest at 24 mph (39 kph).
The storm is expected to pass near Puerto Rico and near or over the eastern Dominican Republic on Saturday. Up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain was forecast for Puerto Rico, with isolated amounts of up to 10 inches (25 centimeters), mostly in the island's southern region.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect for Dominica, Martinique, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, with tropical storm conditions possible in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. A tropical storm watch is in effect for the eastern Dominican Republic, the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands.
On Friday afternoon, Bertha passed just north of the French Caribbean island of Martinique, where officials had urged everyone to stay indoors.
Government spokeswoman Audrey Hamann said in a phone interview that power losses were reported in several parts of the island and that authorities were trying to restore electricity. She said some 150,000 homes were affected by outages but that no injuries or damage had been reported.
In Dominica, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit ordered all businesses closed by Friday afternoon to prepare for the storm, which left hundreds of people without power along the island's eastern region.
Antigua-based regional airline LIAT also canceled several flights in Dominica and St. Lucia, while the U.S. Coast Guard said it was no longer allowing commercial vessels to enter ports in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The storm generated some rain and wind as it passed just north of Barbados earlier Friday, but no damage was reported, Judy Thomas, director of the island's emergency management agency, said in a phone interview.
Bertha is expected to generate up to 3 inches (8 centimeters) of rain across the eastern Caribbean, with isolated amounts of up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) in certain areas. Higher rainfall amounts were forecast for Puerto Rico, where a moderate drought has hit the island's southern region and a small portion in the northeast. More than half of the U.S. territory also is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, with the government reporting $20 million in crop losses.
Strict rationing measures are scheduled to go into effect starting Aug. 6 if the storm doesn't generate enough rain.
"Whether it falls where it needs to fall, that's still to be seen," said Jose Antonio Estrada, National Weather Service meteorologist.
He said the storm is moving quickly and that its effects would be felt all day Saturday in Puerto Rico. Authorities closed El Yunque rainforest, a popular tourist attraction in northeast Puerto Rico, until further notice, and ferry rides to the neighboring islands of Culebra and Vieques were being cancelled.
It rained less than an inch in June in Puerto Rico, compared with the month's average of more than 4 inches. July saw more rain, but the 3.40 inches (8.64 centimeters) that fell was still down from the average of 4.76 inches (12 centimeters).
AP reporter Carlisle Jno Baptiste contributed to this report from Roseau, Dominica