- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) - Tropical Storm Fay toppled utility poles and knocked out power to thousands of people in Bermuda before moving out over open ocean on Sunday, just as a new storm raced toward the eastern rim of the Caribbean threatening to become a hurricane.

By late Sunday night, Tropical Storm Gonzalo was centered roughly 115 miles (180 kilometers) east of the French Caribbean dependency of Guadeloupe and was expected to pick up strength as it moved toward the U.S. island of Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. It is the seventh named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Tracking west at about 10 mph (17 kph), forecasters said an accelerating Gonzalo could reach hurricane strength after it crosses Puerto Rico on Tuesday. After tracking south to north across the territory of about 3.6 million people, forecasters expect Gonzalo to curve over the open Atlantic and stay away from the U.S. East Coast.

Hurricane or tropical storm watches and warnings were issued for a number of Caribbean locales, including Guadeloupe, the Dutch Caribbean territory of St. Maarten, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was expected to approach the U.S. Caribbean islands late Monday.

As the wind began to pick up on Sunday, Caribbean residents wary of a possible blow from the approaching tropical storm stocked up on fuel and groceries and pulled boats ashore or moored them at marinas.

“We’re being told that it’s coming this way so people are trying to find safe havens for their boats. Hopefully, all we’ll get is some rain but you have to be prepared as best as you can,” said Jane Wherren, operations director at Crown Bay Marina, which caters to mega yachts and other pleasure watercraft up to 200 feet (60 meters) in length.

From Puerto Rico, the U.S. Coast Guard warned people to avoid the ocean and stay away from shoreline rocks starting noon Monday. “Tropical Storm Gonzalo is developing quickly,” said Guard Capt. Robert Warren.

Rain-swollen Gonzalo was expected to move through parts of the Leeward Islands by early Monday, producing 4 inches to 8 inches (10 centimeters to 20 centimeters) of rain, with some areas potentially getting soaked with as much as 12 inches (30 centimeters).

The storm forecasts prompted at least one cruise ship company to tweak itineraries. Carnival Cruise Lines’ Breeze ship cancelled a visit in La Romana, Dominican Republic, and its Liberty and Conquest vessels are switching to western Caribbean ports to avoid the storm, according to spokesman Vance Gulliksen.

Hundreds of miles (kilometers) north of the Caribbean, Fay strengthened into a hurricane as it tracked away from Bermuda, spinning over the open Atlantic after lashing the British chain with heavy rain and gusting winds. There were no immediate reports of injuries as Bermuda authorities assessed damage Sunday and discontinued storm watches and warnings.

Fay, which had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph), disrupted power for more than 27,000 customers of the Bermuda Electric Light Company. The utility is the sole supplier of electricity for the territory of roughly 65,000 inhabitants.

As a tropical storm, Fay downed trees and utility poles and several roads were blocked across the tiny archipelago, which has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world and enforces strict building codes to ensure that homes can withstand intense weather. Bermuda authorities urged residents not to venture out on the roads.

“The safest thing is for people to remain at home and allow the important work that follows this kind of storm to be done safely,” Acting Premier Trevor Moniz said.

By late Sunday afternoon, Fay reached hurricane status but quickly returned to tropical storm strength by night and was centered about 400 miles (645 kilometers) east-northeast of Bermuda and moving east at 24 mph (39 kph). The Hurricane Center said it was expected to weaken back to a tropical storm late Sunday.

The storm system’s bands were expected to dump as much as 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain during its passage over Bermuda. Forecasters said a cold front was likely to absorb Fay on Monday. There were no hazards affecting land.


David McFadden on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dmcfadd

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