Bertha Grows To Hurricane Size As It Approaches Caribbean Islands Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico Prepare For Coming Storm

Tropical Storm Bertha reached hurricane strength Sunday, expanding in size and strength as it bore down on a strip of Caribbean islands.

A U.S. Air Force hurricane plane recorded sustained winds of 75 mph when it flew into the storm Sunday evening, the National Weather Service said. The storm grew larger as it headed straight for the Virgin Islands, spinning off winds that extended for 175 miles from its center.

A band of lead showers that did no more than rustle trees and water some parched islands announced the storm’s advance Sunday night.

Hurricane warnings were issued for all of the Caribbean’s northeastern islands, sending residents scurrying to stores for emergency supplies. The eye of the storm is expected to cross directly over St. Thomas, the main U.S. Virgin Island, sometime Monday.

The weather service said up to 5 inches of rain could accompany the storm, along with waves surging 2 to 4 feet above normal.

Gov. Roy L. Schneider ordered shelters to open Sunday on St. Thomas, where hundreds of residents are still living under tarpaulins covering roofs damaged and destroyed in last year’s storms.

Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello activated his disaster plan, which fixes prices on hurricane-related items and bans alcohol sales.

Bertha raced toward the islands at 22 mph Sunday evening. The storm was 85 miles east of Antigua. Hammers rang out on that island Sunday afternoon, as people hastily boarded up windows and tried to secure roofs unrepaired since last year’s storms.

Bertha is then projected to cross numerous Caribbean islands, from St. Martin, St. Kitts and Nevis, to Montserrat, where residents have also been dealing with threat of a volcano eruption for more than a year.

The following fields overflowed: DATELINE = CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS

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