Tropical Storm Chris strengthens in eastern Caribbean, could become hurricane

Published 4:24 pm Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Tropical Storm Chris gained strength as it brushed past islands in the eastern Caribbean early Wednesday, and forecasters warned that it could become the first hurricane of the 2006 Atlantic season by evening.

The storm had top sustained winds of 65 mph Wednesday morning as it skirted the northern Leeward Islands. It was expected to gather strength as it moved west-northwest toward the Virgin Islands, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Long-range forecasts put the storm anywhere from south of Cuba to Florida by late in the weekend. If its sustained winds reach 74 mph, as forecasters expect to happen late Wednesday or early Thursday, Chris will become a hurricane.

A tropical storm warning remained in effect for Anguilla, St. Barthelemy, St. Maarten, Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. The warning means tropical storm conditions are likely within 24 hours.

As skies darkened and rain began to fall, people began the familiar ritual of stocking up on gas, food and candles. Tourists at a resort just outside the Antiguan capital said they had no plans to evacuate.

“I am not going to panic,” said Maxwell Stevens of New Brunswick, New Jersey. “I will take it in stride.”

At 7:00 a.m EDT, the storm was centered about 65 miles north of St. Maarten in the Leeward Islands, moving west-northwest at 10 mph.

The U.S. National Weather Service said Puerto Rico would see strong gusts of wind and heavy rain Wednesday afternoon and into Thursday. The Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico could receive up to 8 inches of rain and could experience flash floods and mudslides, forecasters said.

In the central Antiguan village of All Saints, people were determined to spend the night celebrating the annual Carnival festival, which locals refer to as “the dance.”

“Nothing stops the dance. The weather is good for the dance whether it rains or not,” said bar owner Derol Thomas, 38, as he had a pre-party drink with friends Tuesday evening.

The first named storm of the 2006 season, Tropical Storm Alberto, swept over Florida in mid-June, then plowed northward along the U.S. coast past the Outer Banks.