Tropical Storm Bonnie heads toward Florida, then oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

By Juan Mccartney, AP
Friday, July 23, 2010

Tropical Storm Bonnie nears, Florida, oil spill

NASSAU, Bahamas — Tropical Storm Bonnie raced toward a strike on southern Florida on Friday, following a course that would take it across the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, prompting a pause in efforts to clean up the disaster.

Rain and lightning raked the low-lying Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas on Friday, and forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was likely to reach the Gulf of Mexico by Saturday.

Bonnie had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph), and was centered about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southeast of Miami around dawn Friday.

The center of Bonnie was expected to pass near the southern tip of the Florida peninsula during the day, and forecasters said it could strengthen a little over the gulf. The early forecast track would carry it toward Louisiana.

Capt. Stephen Russell, director of the Bahamian National Emergency Management Agency, said there were no reports of major damage, flooding or injuries on islands in the southeastern and central Bahamas already passed by the storm on Thursday.

“We are advising everyone to remain vigilant throughout the night and early morning when the storm exits the Bahamas,” Russell said.

A broken oil well has spewed somewhere between 94 million and 184 million gallons into the Gulf before a cap could be attached. The crisis — the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history — unfolded after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.

Some experts worry the hurricane season could worsen environmental damage from the spill, with powerful winds and large waves pushing oil deeper into estuaries and wetlands and also depositing more of the pungent, sticky mess on beaches.

People had stocked up on water and food in the southern Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, island chains that are well-accustomed to rough weather. Many businesses remained open, but schools were already closed for the summer.

Donna Musgrove, a businesswoman in Providenciales, said some streets were flooded. “It’s raining from one end of the island to the other,” she said. “The skies are completely dark.”

The storm did not pose a threat to tourist resorts in the islands.

Tourist Ezra Uzzel, 45, of North Carolina, said he would not cut short his two-week vacation in the Turks and Caicos.

“This if our third day, and if the reports are right, by the weekend we should have good weather again,” he said.

Residents in the southeastern Bahamas endured heavy rains and copious lightning, but no damages or injuries had been reported. Officials with the Emergency Operations Center said they would travel to the area with basic supplies as soon as the weather improved.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for the northwestern Bahamas, for Florida’s east coast south of Deerfield Beach, the entire Florida Keys up the western coast to Englewood. A tropical storm watch was issued early Friday for the northern Gulf coast from Destin, Florida, to Morgan City, Louisiana.

The system was expected bring heavy winds and rains to the Florida Keys, but emergency officials said they were not planning any mandatory evacuations since they did not expect a major storm surge.

As a precaution, storm shelters will open for tourists and residents who live on boats or have special needs.

In the Dominican Republic, where roughly 1,500 people were evacuated, rice fields were destroyed and 14 communities left isolated after bridges collapsed. A 14-year-old boy died in Puerto Rico on Sunday after drowning in a swollen river.

Haiti’s Department of Civil Protection reported minor flooding in the northern Artibonite region but no injuries or major damage.

Associated Press Writer Vivian Tyson in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, contributed to this report.

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