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Tropical storm Florence prompts Bermuda warning

Written by: Staff

HAMILTON, Bermuda, Sep 10 (Reuters) Bermuda shut its airport and put emergency workers on standby on Saturday as forecasters predicted Tropical Storm Florence could strengthen as it approached the British territory.

At 0830 hrs IST, Florence was around 635 km south of Bermuda and moving north-northwest about 20 kph, the US National Hurricane Center said.

Florence's top sustained winds remained at 100 kph, and the Miami-based center predicted that some overnight fluctuations were possible but that steady strengthening was expected and Florence could become a hurricane today.

Forecasters said Florence was expected to make a gradual turn toward the north today. That would move it away from the United States and into a part of the open Atlantic where shearing winds and cooler waters would sap its strength.

The storm's approach prompted Bermuda's government to issue a tropical storm warning to its 63,000 residents that tropical storm conditions could arrive within 24 hours, as well as a hurricane watch warning of hurricane conditions -- with top sustained winds of at least 119 kph within 36 hours.

Bermuda's airport closed at 10 pm yesterday and was not due to re-open until Tuesday, officials said.

Acting Police Commissioner Roseanda Young said hundreds of emergency service workers were on standby and tourists have been issued emergency plans by their hotels.

''All tourists have been given the opportunity to leave.

Those still here have chosen to stay,'' she said.

Coastal residents on the 22-mile-long island were urged to head to the government shelter in a high school.

Florence was a large storm and large ocean swells and dangerous surf conditions, including rip tides, were already affecting Bermuda, as well as the Northern Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.

Bermuda could expect five to eight inches of rain, with up to 10 inches in places, the center said yesterday.

Mechanic Paul Henderson, 53, recalled 1987's devastating Hurricane Emily as he stocked up on batteries.

''I was still cleaning up my property three years after,'' he said.

The hurricane center in Miami said dangerous surf conditions would begin to affect the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas and the US East Coast during the weekend.

Reuters DKA VP0915

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