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Hurricane Debby leaves Puerto Rico, heads toward Florida
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CNN) -- Hurricane Debby is churning through the Caribbean away from Puerto Rico, with hurricane warnings in effect for the southeast Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the north coast of the Dominican Republic.
At 11 p.m. EDT, Debby was about 270 miles (435 km) east-southeast of Grand Turk, near latitude 19.4 north and longitude 67.5 west, moving between the west and west-northwest at nearly 18 mph (30 km/h). The latest forecast track puts Debby near South Florida by Friday afternoon, but forecasters stressed that the computer-generated track could change.
At 11 p.m. EDT, the center of the hurricane was about 270 miles (435 km) east-southeast of Grand Turk, near latitude 19.4 north and longitude 67.5 west. Debby was expected to continue on its west-northwest track, traveling at nearly 18 mph (30 km/h).
Debby spared Puerto Rico its most brutal winds, but is still threatening the north and northwest coastal areas with flooding. A tropical storm warning extends from Puerto Rico to the U.S. Virgin Islands and surrounding Islands.
A hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning have been issued for Haiti north of Port au Prince. And the Cuban government issued a hurricane watch for the island's north coast.
Debby's predicted path includes South Florida
Debby is currently a Category 1 hurricane -- meaning minimal strength -- but the storm could gather strength as it moves through warmer waters around the Bahamas.
The latest forecast track from the National Hurricane Center showed Hurricane Debby nearing South Florida by 2 p.m. EDT Friday. But forecasters stressed that the computer-generated track could change.
If the hurricane does not change directions, South Florida could see hurricane watches issued sometime Wednesday. Forecast models also indicated that Debby would become a major hurricane in the next 48 to 72 hours.
Maximum sustained winds are near 75 mph (120 km/h) with higher gusts.
Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 25 miles (35 kilometers) from the storm's center, and tropical storm-force winds another 175 miles (280 kilometers).
'This is going to be a breeze'
In Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of 4 million people, there was relief as Debby's eye passed just north of the island.
Gov. Pedro Rosello had declared a state of emergency as Debby approached. Schools were closed, shelters were opened and island residents stocked emergency supplies. "We're prepared to the maximum," said Rosello.
But by Tuesday afternoon, many people headed to the beach.
"Puerto Ricans have become so savvy about hurricanes that when the big meteorologist over in Florida tells you, 'Well, this is about to become a hurricane (category) one,' everyone says, 'Cool! It's only a hurricane (category) one!'" said Manuel Viscasillas.
"Hurricane Georges was a hurricane (category) five. So this is going to be a breeze," he said.
Some tourists tried to flee Hurricane Debby, boarding early morning flights from San Juan for the U.S. mainland.
Lane Goldberg, 16, of Westport, Connecticut, was with a youth group trying to get home after working on community service projects in Tortola.
"It's been crazy;, some kids were crying, kids were freaking out, parents were freaking out," Goldberg said. He was bumped from four flights at San Juan's airport.
Others were more relaxed.
"I hope it's over soon, because I need a suntan by Sunday," said Diana Chiquito of New York City, sunbathing on San Juan's Condado beach. Offshore, surfers enjoyed the higher waves.
Although the airport remained open, airlines stopped flying as the storm closed in.
Ten ships and two submarines in the USS Harry Truman battle group abandoned training off the Puerto Rican island of Vieques -- the site of recurrent protests over military exercises -- and moved 300 miles (483 kilometers) south, the U.S. Navy said.
One death was reported in Puerto Rico. Authorities said a 68-year-old man was killed when he fell off the roof of his home while trying to remove a satellite dish before the storm's arrival.
Antigua: 'Gentle Debby gave us a gentle kiss'
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the storm made little impact, but a few power outages resulted. On St. Croix island, HOVENSA, one of the largest oil refineries in the Western Hemisphere, shut down some processing units, said spokesman Alex Moorhead.
Gov. Charles Turnbull had asked for federal help even before the storm's arrival. The National Park Service closed its grounds on the island of St. John, and boaters moved to safe harbor, securing their vessels in mangrove swamps.
As the hurricane bore down on the British Virgin Islands, more than 100 of 150 people in shelters were visitors, mainly young Americans from sailing schools, said acting Gov. Elton Georges. He reported heavy rainfall and winds of 70 mph (110 km/h).
Carnival Cruise Lines said it was diverting three of its ships now in the eastern Caribbean to areas farther north, west and south to avoid the storm.
Earlier Monday, Debby swirled west-northwest past the northern Leeward Islands. There were no immediate reports of injuries or significant damage from St. Maarten, Saba, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda.
"Gentle Debby gave us a gentle kiss," said Tony Johnson, a resort owner in Antigua.
"She passed by in the middle of the night. We didn't experience very much at all. We had prepared for the worst, of course, expecting that we might get a lot of wind and we might get a lot of rain (but) we didn't get either of those things," he told CNN by telephone.
In Anguilla, 60-mph (95-km/h) gusts downed a few utility poles and trees.
Throughout the region, airlines canceled flights, schools and banks closed and storekeepers nailed plywood to windows.
In St. Maarten -- battered in recent years by a series of hurricanes -- the government lifted an overnight curfew, and businesses reopened after Debby raced by.
"We've fared well. I'm looking outside at my garden, which was devastated by Hurricane Lenny last year, and it still has flowers," said Glen Holm, director of the tourism bureau on neighboring Saba.
Debby nears hurricane strength as it approaches Caribbean
National Weather Service