Eastern Caribbean braces for rain, wind as Erika approaches

San Juan, Puerto Rico (AP) — Governments ordered schools, airports and even casinos to close and they prepared shelters as Tropical Storm Erika approached the eastern Caribbean on Wednesday.

The storm was located about 195 miles (315 kilometers) east of Antigua and was moving west at 17 mph (28 kph). Maximum sustained winds remained at 45 mph (75 kph), and the storm was not forecast to gain strength over the next two days.

Erika was expected to pass near Antigua and Barbuda late Wednesday as it enters the Caribbean, with authorities in the twin-island nation warning of flash flooding given the extremely dry conditions caused by the worst drought to hit the Caribbean in recent years.

Boats at Shell Beach Marina along Antigua’s north coast have been out of the water since Saturday, with people taking numerous precautions as Erika approaches, said Caroline Davy, a marina employee.

She said many people were caught off-guard when Tropical Storm Gonzalo battered Antigua last October, and that they are no longer taking chances.

“Too many times we’ve seen things happen that were not predicted,” she said.

Authorities in the nearby Dutch Caribbean territory of St. Maarten said schools and government offices would be closed on Thursday. They also asked that casinos, restaurants and other businesses close by midnight Wednesday. Officials warned they might temporarily suspend power and water service as the storm approaches.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Erika would move over or near parts of the Leeward Islands late Wednesday and then near Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Thursday.

All airports in the U.S. Virgin Islands will be closed to incoming flights until Friday, and government offices will be closed as well, said Gov. Kenneth Mapp.

“This is a fast-moving storm, and so we expect conditions to deteriorate rapidly,” he said.

Tropical storm warnings were issued for Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the Leeward Islands, the Dominican Republic, the Turks & Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas. Erika was expected to dump between 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 centimeters) of rain, and up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) in some areas.

Antigua-based regional airline LIAT and Puerto Rico-based Seaborne Airlines have canceled more than two dozen flights through Friday because of the storm, and officials in Puerto Rico said they would suspend ferry transportation between the main island and the popular sister islands of Culebra and Vieques starting Thursday. The U.S. Coast Guard said it would close all ports in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Thursday.

Meanwhile in the Pacific, Tropical Storm Ignacio gained some strength. The storm’s maximum sustained winds increased to 65 mph (100 kph), and it was expected to strengthen to a hurricane by Thursday.

Ignacio was centered about 1,365 miles (2,195 kilometers) east-southeast of Hilo, Hawaii, and was moving west at 12 mph (19 kph).

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