By VIVIAN TYSON
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks & Caicos Islands (AP) — Tropical Storm Bertha headed away from the Turks & Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas late Sunday, and officials discontinued all storm warnings and coastal watches.
The storm had buffeted parts of the two Caribbean archipelagos with rain and gusty winds earlier in the day after crossing over the Dominican Republic, where flooding from downpours caused the temporary evacuation of dozens of families.
There were no reports of damage in the drenched Turks & Caicos or the southern Bahamas, and residents reported mostly sunny weather as Bertha’s center tracked over open water during the 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.
As the storm’s center swirled over the Atlantic, its maximum sustained winds strengthened to 65 mph (100 kph), and some additional strengthening was expected over the next two days. Bertha was centered about 190 miles (305 kilometers) east of Eleuthera Island late Sunday, with tropical storm force winds extending outward up to 160 miles (260 kilometers). It was moving north-northwest at about 17 mph (28 kph).
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was likely to begin curving to the north-northeast and move parallel to the U.S. eastern seaboard without hitting the mainland. It was also expected to steer clear of the mid-Atlantic British territory of Bermuda.
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 finish 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.
In the Dominican Republic, he director of the emergency operations center, Juan Manuel Mendez, said residents needed to remain alert because rain was still falling in parts of the country’s east Sunday.
Due to choppy, white-crested waves, officials warned tourism businesses to cancel any water activities and prohibited fishing boats from taking to the water on much of the Caribbean nation’s drenched east coast.
The storm passed just southwest of Puerto Rico on Saturday, dropping 3 to 5 inches (8-13 centimeters) of rain, with isolated amounts of up to 8 inches (20 centimeters).
The rainfall was welcomed by many in parched sections of the U.S. Caribbean island, where a moderate drought has withered crops. On Sunday, Alberto Lazaro, director of Puerto Rico’s water and sewer company, said rushing inflows to reservoirs from Bertha’s rains would postpone plans to ration water for at least a “few weeks.
Authorities in Puerto Rico said nearly 29,000 households were without electricity Sunday. Most of the power outages occurred in the central mountainous region following more than 1,200 lightning strikes that occurred in the area during afternoon hours alone.
Associated Press writers Alison Lowe in Nassau, Bahamas, and Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, contributed to this report.
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