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Fay reaches hurricane strength after soaking Bermuda

David Mcfadden Associated Press

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Hurricane Fay gained force Sunday over the open Atlantic after knocking out power to thousands of people in Bermuda as a strong tropical storm, just as a new storm that threatened to become a hurricane in a couple of days raced toward the eastern rim of the Caribbean.

By late Sunday afternoon, Tropical Storm Gonzalo was centered roughly 115 miles east of the French Caribbean dependency of Guadeloupe and was expected to pick up strength as it moved toward the U.S. island of Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. It is the seventh named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Tracking west at about 10 mph, forecasters said an accelerating Gonzalo could reach hurricane strength after it crosses Puerto Rico on Tuesday. After tracking south to north across the territory of about 3.6 million people, forecasters expect Gonzalo to curve over the open Atlantic and stay away from the U.S. East Coast.

Hurricane or tropical storm watches and warnings were issued for a number of Caribbean locales, including Guadeloupe, the Dutch Caribbean territory of St. Maarten, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was expected to approach the U.S. Caribbean islands late today.

From Puerto Rico, the U.S. Coast Guard warned people to avoid the ocean and stay away from shoreline rocks starting at noon today. “Tropical Storm Gonzalo is developing quickly,” said Guard Capt. Robert Warren.

Rain-swollen Gonzalo was expected to move through parts of the Leeward Islands by early today, producing 4 inches to 8 inches of rain, with some areas potentially getting soaked with as much as 12 inches.

Hundreds of miles north of the Caribbean, Fay strengthened into a hurricane as it tracked away from Bermuda, spinning over the open Atlantic after lashing the British chain with heavy rain and gusting winds. There were no immediate reports of injuries as Bermuda authorities assessed damage Sunday and discontinued storm watches and warnings.

Fay, which had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph and stronger gusts, disrupted power for more than 27,000 customers of the Bermuda Electric Light Co. The utility is the sole supplier of electricity for the territory of roughly 65,000 inhabitants.

As a tropical storm, Fay downed trees and utility poles and several roads were blocked across the tiny archipelago, which has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world and enforces strict building codes to ensure that homes can withstand intense weather. Bermuda authorities urged residents not to venture out on the roads.

By late Sunday afternoon, Fay reached hurricane status and was centered about 290 miles northeast of Bermuda and moving east-northeast at almost 25 mph. The Hurricane Center said it was expected to weaken back to a tropical storm late Sunday.

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