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Felix nears hurricane force as it swirls toward Aruba; tropical storm kills 3 in Acapulco

Tropical Storm Felix neared hurricane strength Saturday as it pounded Grenada with heavy rains and winds, snapped small boats loose from their moorings and toppled utility poles on its route toward the Caribbean island of Aruba.

The fast-strengthening storm was forecast to become a hurricane late Saturday or Sunday before passing by Honduras’ resort islands and then plowing into Belize on Wednesday.

Tropical Storm Henriette, meanwhile, was moving out to sea after dumping rain on Mexico’s Pacific coastline. In Acapulco, the storm loosened a hillside in one of the resort’s poor neighborhoods, causing a landslide Saturday that buried a teenager and her two brothers as they slept.

Felix swept over Grenada on Saturday, knocking local radio and TV stations out of service and toppling utility lines. Thousands of Grenadians were without electricity, and utility crews were slowly restoring service. No injuries were immediately reported.

Felix became the sixth named storm of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season early Saturday, spawning thunderstorms and downing trees in Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. The Caribbean islands reported only minor damage.

The tropical storm was moving away from the southern Windward Islands late Saturday morning and was to pass near Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao by evening or early Sunday morning, according to forecasters.

At 2 p.m. EDT, Felix was centered 420 miles southeast of Puerto Rico and was moving westward at 18 mph. It had top sustained winds of 70 mph — up from 45 mph earlier Saturday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The system was expected to strengthen over the next 24 hours. Forecasters said satellite loops show that Felix is a small storm, but is steadily expanding in size.

In Aruba, about 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela, residents stocked up on groceries, flashlights and window-reinforcements. The airport was reported busy but calm as tourists and islanders got on flights.

The government of the islands of Netherlands Antilles and Aruba issued a tropical storm warning for the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. A tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected within the warning area within the next 24 hours.

A tropical storm warning was also in effect along Mexico’s coast from Punta San Telmo to Cabo Corrientes, even though Tropical Storm Henriette was moving out to sea.

With maximum sustained winds of 50 mph the storm was expected to become a hurricane by Sunday, but forecasters put it on a path that did not threaten land, at least not before Thursday. It could curve back around and hit a remote section of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula later in the week.

The storm dumped heavy rains in Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta, flooding streets, closing schools and causing several landslides, including one that briefly blocked a coastal highway.

On the Net:

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov