September 18, 2005

Bahamas, Florida Keys under hurricane alert

MIAMI (Reuters) - The Florida Keys and parts of the Bahamas
were under a hurricane watch on Sunday as forecasters warned
that an unnamed tropical storm system could become a hurricane
in the next two days.

The system, officially a tropical depression, could be
Tropical Storm Rita by later on Sunday and a hurricane by
Tuesday, when it was expected to be in the Florida Straits
between the Keys and Cuba, the U.S. National Hurricane Center

A hurricane watch was issued for all of the Florida Keys, a
110-mile (177-km) chain of islands off the southern tip of the
Florida peninsula, and the northwestern Bahamas. A hurricane
watch tells residents they could see hurricane conditions
within 36 hours.

At 11 a.m. EDT, the center of the depression was about 390
miles east-southeast of Nassau, the Bahamian capital, the
hurricane center said. It was moving to the west at about 12
mph (19 kph).

The system had sustained winds of 35 mph (56 kph) and will
become a tropical storm when winds reach 39 mph (63 kph).

A tropical storm warning was in effect for the Turks and
Caicos islands, a British territory near the Bahamas, and for
the central and southeast Bahamas.

Rita would be the 17th tropical storm or hurricane of an
unusually busy Atlantic season, which, on average, sees about
11 storms. Hurricane Katrina has been blamed for at least 883
deaths after it hit the U.S. Gulf coast in late August.

Tropical Storm Philippe, meanwhile, was about 425 miles

east-southeast of the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. It
was moving on a north-northwest track that would take it
through the open Atlantic and was no immediate threat to land.

Tropical Storm Ophelia was near Halifax, Nova Scotia after
drenching North Carolina late last week.