PROVIDENCIALES, Turks & Caicos Islands (AP) – A strengthened Tropical Storm Bertha swirled northward across open sea early Monday after brushing the Turks & Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas, while forecasters predicted the storm likely won't make landfall as it passes along the U.S. East Coast.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm also was likely to miss the mid-Atlantic British territory of Bermuda while beginning to curve north-northeastward and stay out in the Atlantic.
The storm buffeted parts of the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos with rain and gusty winds Sunday, after passing over the Dominican Republic and causing temporary evacuation of dozens of families as its downpours raised rivers out of their banks. Earlier, it dumped rain on Puerto Rico, which has been parched by unusually dry weather.
The storm's maximum sustained winds strengthened to 70 mph early Monday and the U.S. hurricane center said Bertha was forecast to become a hurricane later in the day. Bertha was centered about 220 miles east of Great Abaco Island, with tropical storm force winds extending outward up to 160 miles. It was moving north at about 16 mph.
People in the Bahamas reported mostly sunny weather as Bertha's center moved off into the Atlantic on Sunday afternoon.
"We had some cloudiness earlier this morning. But right now it is sunshine, no breeze," said Bernard Ferguson, an employee at a resort on remote Crooked Island.
Before Bertha reached the Turks & Caicos, residents pulled boats ashore or moored them at marinas in the tourism-dependent archipelago that has little natural protection from strong storm surges. Tourism Director Ralph Higgs said hotels were "taking the threat of the storm seriously."
On the southernmost Bahamian island of Inagua, people had been advised Saturday to make preparations for protecting their properties. But many islanders instead focused on completing a popular sailing regatta before the storm ruined the fun.
"We're all partying because it's homecoming regatta. Honestly, no one's focusing on the weather," said Shakera Forbes on Inagua, one of roughly 30 inhabited islands of the sprawling Bahamas archipelago off Florida's east coast.