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Sunday February 7th, 2016 8:09AM

Puerto Rico braces as Tropical Storm Bertha nears

By The Associated Press
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Tropical Storm Bertha churned toward Puerto Rico Saturday morning as it unleashed heavy rains and strong winds across the eastern Caribbean, knocking out power on some islands.<br /> <br /> The storm's maximum sustained winds held at 50 mph (85 kph), and no significant change in strength was expected over the next two days. Bertha was centered about 120 miles (135 kilometers) south-southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico and was moving west-northwest at 22 mph (35 kph) Saturday morning.<br /> <br /> The storm was expected to pass near southwest Puerto Rico and possibly over the eastern Dominican Republic on Saturday. As much as 3 to 5 inches (8-13 centimeters) of rain was forecast for Puerto Rico, with isolated amounts of up to 8 inches (20 centimeters), with the heaviest rain likely in the island's southern region.<br /> <br /> Tropical storm warnings were in effect for Martinique, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the eastern Dominican Republic and central Bahamas.<br /> <br /> On Friday afternoon, Bertha passed just north of the French Caribbean island of Martinique, where officials had urged everyone to stay indoors.<br /> <br /> Government spokeswoman Audrey Hamann said in a phone interview that power losses were reported in several parts of the island and that authorities were trying to restore electricity. She said some 150,000 homes were affected by outages but that no injuries or damage had been reported.<br /> <br /> In Dominica, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit ordered all businesses closed by Friday afternoon to prepare for the storm, which left hundreds of people without power along the island's eastern region.<br /> <br /> Antigua-based regional airline LIAT also canceled several flights in Dominica and St. Lucia, while the U.S. Coast Guard said it was no longer allowing commercial vessels to enter ports in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.<br /> <br /> The storm generated some rain and wind as it passed just north of Barbados earlier Friday, but no damage was reported, Judy Thomas, director of the island's emergency management agency, said in a phone interview.<br /> <br /> Bertha was expected to generate up to 1 to 3 inches (2-8 centimeters) of rain across the eastern Caribbean, with isolated amounts of up to 5 inches (13 centimeters) in certain areas. Somewhat higher amounts were forecast for Puerto Rico, where a moderate drought has hit the island's southern region and a small portion in the northeast. More than half of the U.S. territory is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, with the government reporting $20 million in crop losses.<br /> <br /> "We expect a lot of rain," said Ernesto Morales with the National Weather Service. "It's very hard to say whether it will rain over water or land. We hope it's over land."<br /> <br /> Strict rationing measures are scheduled to go into effect starting Wednesday if the storm doesn't generate enough rain. Government officials said hundreds of thousands of people living in and near the capital of San Juan would receive water every other day.<br /> <br /> Morales said the storm was moving quickly and its effects would be felt all day Saturday in Puerto Rico. Authorities closed El Yunque rainforest, a popular tourist attraction in northeast Puerto Rico, and ferry rides to the neighboring islands of Culebra and Vieques were cancelled.<br /> <br /> It rained less than an inch in June in Puerto Rico, compared with the month's average of more than 4 inches. July saw more rain, but the 3.40 inches (8.64 centimeters) that fell was still down from the average of 4.76 inches (12 centimeters).<br />
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