published Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Tropical Storm Bertha drifting away from Turks & Caicos, Bahamas

A surfer enters the water to take advantage of the high waves in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Aug. 2, 2014.
A surfer enters the water to take advantage of the high waves in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Aug. 2, 2014.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks & Caicos Islands — Tropical Storm Bertha drifted away from the Turks & Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas on Sunday afternoon, prompting officials to discontinue all storm warnings and coastal watches.

The storm had buffeted parts of the two Caribbean archipelagos with rain and gusty winds after crossing over the Dominican Republic, where overflowing rivers from downpours led to the temporary evacuation of dozens of families.

There were no reports of damage in the drenched Turks & Caicos or the southern Bahamas, where residents reported mostly sunny weather as Bertha's center tracked over open water.

"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 remained at 45 mph (75 kph), but some strengthening was expected over the next two days. Bertha was moving northwest at about 18 mph (30 kph) with tropical storm force winds extending outward up to 160 miles (260 kilometers).

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was likely to curve 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 later in the week.

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.

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