BY VIVIAN TYSON
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks & Caicos Islands (AP) -- A newly formed Hurricane Bertha swirled northward across open sea Monday after brushing the Turks & Caicos Islands and Bahamas as a tropical storm, while forecasters predicted the storm wasn't likely to make landfall on the U.S. East Coast.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the second hurricane of the Atlantic season also was likely to miss Bermuda while beginning to curve north-northeastward.
The current forecast map predicts that the center of the storm will stay offshore as it passes wide of the U.S. East Coast, though it's hard to precisely gauge a storm's path days in advance. If Bertha moves as forecast, it could brush Canada's farthest eastern provinces as a post-tropical storm later this week.
The storm buffeted parts of the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos with rain and gusty winds Sunday, after passing over the Dominican Republic and causing temporary evacuation of dozens of families as its downpours raised rivers out of their banks. Earlier, it dumped rain on Puerto Rico, which has been parched by unusually dry weather.
The storm strengthened to a hurricane Monday morning with maximum sustained winds of near 80 mph (130 kph) with little change expected in the next 24 hours. It was forecast to start weakening Tuesday. The hurricane was centered about 230 miles (370 kilometers) northeast of Great Abaco Island and is moving north near 17 mph (28 kph).
People in the Bahamas reported mostly sunny weather as Bertha's center moved off into the Atlantic on Sunday afternoon.
"We had some cloudiness earlier this morning. But right now it is sunshine, no breeze," said Bernard Ferguson, an employee at a resort on remote Crooked Island.
Before Bertha reached the Turks & Caicos, residents pulled boats ashore or moored them at marinas in the tourism-dependent archipelago that has little natural protection from strong storm surges. Tourism Director Ralph Higgs said hotels were "taking the threat of the storm seriously."
On the southernmost Bahamian island of Inagua, people had been advised Saturday to make preparations for protecting their properties. But many islanders instead focused on completing a popular sailing regatta before the storm ruined the fun.
"We're all partying because it's homecoming regatta. Honestly, no one's focusing on the weather," said Shakera Forbes on Inagua, one of roughly 30 inhabited islands of the sprawling Bahamas archipelago off Florida's east coast.
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