SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Tropical Storm Bertha emerged from the eastern Dominican Republic early Sunday after whipping Puerto Rico with heavy rains and strong winds that knocked out power in parts of the region.
As it headed for the Turks and Caicos, the storm's maximum sustained winds dropped slightly to 45 mph (75 kph), but slow strengthening was expected by Monday. Bertha was centered about 45 miles (70 kilometers) west of Grand Turk Island and was moving northwest at 21 mph (33 kph).
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was likely to curve to the northeast and move parallel to the U.S. eastern seaboard without hitting the mainland.
The director of the Dominican Republic's Emergency Operations Center, Juan Manuel Mendez, said that rain had been falling on parts of the country but there were no reports of damage so far.
Officials were asking hotels and resorts in Punta Cana to cancel any activities and prohibited tourist and fishing boats from taking to the water on the country's east coast.
Earlier Saturday, the storm passed just southwest of Puerto Rico, dropping between 3 to 5 inches (8-13 centimeters) of rain, with isolated amounts of up to 8 inches (20 centimeters).
Authorities that nearly 39,000 households were without power and more than 3,000 without water. The lights also had gone out at the island's emergency management agency during a press conference Saturday morning.
Officials said most of the power outages occurred in the island's central mountainous region following more than 1,200 lightning strikes that occurred in the area during afternoon hours alone.
Jose Colon Rivera, 50, who lives in a rural area near the southern town of Cayey, said in a phone interview that he could hear the wind whistling loudly through his zinc roof.
"If anything happens, I can always run," said Colon, who was watching wrestling on TV as he waited for the storm to pass.
Some 220 people arrived at several government shelters in Puerto Rico's southeast region, the majority of them international athletes participating in a youth baseball tournament.
Ingrid Vila, gubernatorial chief of staff, said Puerto Rico's main international airport remained open but that several flights had been cancelled.
Authorities closed El Yunque rainforest, a popular tourist attraction in northeast Puerto Rico, and ferry rides to the neighboring islands of Culebra and Vieques were cancelled.
Downed trees limbs also were reported across St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where a coastal buoy south of St. Thomas recorded wind gusts of 72 mph (115 kph).
Bertha earlier left 150,000 homes without power on the French Caribbean island of Martinique and hundreds of people without power along Dominica's eastern region.
The storm brought some rain to a drought-hit area of southern Puerto Rico, but it was not yet known whether it rained enough to cancel strict water rationing measures that are scheduled to start on Wednesday, authorities said.