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Hurricane Beryl heads for late weekend entry into Caribbean

In this early morning Sept. 20, 2017, photo, a young boy looks out the window as strong winds brought on by Hurricane Maria bend a palm tree and send debris flying, in Juncos, Puerto Rico. (Linda Rodriguez Flecha / AP)
In this early morning Sept. 20, 2017, photo, a young boy looks out the window as strong winds brought on by Hurricane Maria bend a palm tree and send debris flying, in Juncos, Puerto Rico. (Linda Rodriguez Flecha / AP)
By Danica Coto Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A compact Hurricane Beryl, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, was on a path early Saturday that would carry it over the Lesser Antilles at the end of the weekend and into the eastern Caribbean, bringing a new threat to islands still rebuilding from last year’s storms.

A hurricane watch was issued for Dominica, which was battered by Hurricane Maria in September. The island’s meteorological service said weather conditions would start deteriorating Saturday night and warned of six to 12 inches of rain. A tropical storm watch was issued for the French Caribbean territories of Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin and St. Barts. Deeper into the Caribbean, a state of emergency was declared in Puerto Rico, which Maria also pounded.

Beryl formed Friday and was a Category 1 storm late in the day, with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It was centered 890 miles east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles late Friday and was moving west at 14 mph.

Forecasters said Beryl was expected to strengthen some more in the next few days but predicted it would begin weakening after entering the Caribbean late Sunday or early Monday. It was forecast to pass about 70 miles south of Puerto Rico on Monday, but the storm-wracked U.S. territory was warned that it could still see high winds as well as heavy rains that could cause flooding and mudslides.

“People have to remain alert,” said Gabriel Lojero, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in San Juan. “The forecast could change for the better or worse.”

Beryl was a compact storm, with hurricane force winds extending out about 10 miles from its center. Forecasters said the storm probably would dissipate once it moved south of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency for the island and suspended work for Monday.

Rossello told reporters the island would probably experience power outages, given that its electricity grid has become more vulnerable since Hurricane Maria, which caused damage estimated at more than $100 billion. He said, however, that the recovery should be quicker since there are more power restoration crews and more equipment on the island now.

The governor urged people without sturdy roofs to move to one of the 424 shelters that the government planned to open across the island. He recently noted that some 60,000 people still have only tarps for roofs.

“There are a lot of Puerto Ricans who are in a vulnerable position,” Rossello said. “We are keeping an eye on this minute by minute. It is not the moment to panic, but it’s the moment to prepare.”

Puerto Rico Health Secretary Rafael Rodriguez urged all those with serious health conditions, including diabetics, to seek shelter at health facilities, which have generators.

Meanwhile, a tropical depression formed in the Atlantic well off the North Carolina coast, but forecasters said it wasn’t expected to pose any threat to land. The hurricane center said it would likely become a tropical storm Saturday and continue strengthening over the next few days while remaining far offshore.

At 11 p.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 195 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras with maximum sustained winds of 30 mph. It was moving north-northwest at 6 mph.

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