Slow-moving TS Bertha nears Bermuda

July 14, 2008 6:06:41 AM PDT
Tropical Storm Bertha kicked up deadly surf as far away as New Jersey on Sunday and threatened to lash Bermuda with rain and high winds in the next 24 hours.TRACK BERTHA: Location | Path | Satellite | Hurricane Guide

The storm apparently played a role in the deaths of three swimmers along the New Jersey coast, where the U.S. National Weather Service said Bertha created tricky waves and currents.

Authorities said one man drowned and another was missing and feared dead following a Saturday evening swim off the Wildwood beach. A third man died the same day after being plucked from a rip current in Atlantic City, though doctors said Sunday night that he died of natural causes rather than drowning.

Business owners in this British Atlantic territory said they planned to send workers home by noon Monday as a preventive measure, while residents began taping windows and securing boats.

"Bermudians are pretty used to this," said local resident Ruth O'Kelly-Lynch, 25. "We've been through this several times, so everyone's relaxed but prepared."

The slow-moving, meandering Bertha was drifting northwest about 3 mph (6 kph) on Sunday night, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said predicted it would pick up speed as it moves north Monday and Tuesday.

The storm's center is expected to pass to the east of Bermuda in the next 24 to 48 hours, generating large swells and high surf. Bertha's outer bands could dump 2 to 4 inches of rain, the center said.

JetBlue canceled Monday flights from Bermuda to Boston and New York, while American Airlines passengers scheduled to travel to Miami and New York that day were flown out on Sunday. British Airways said it would announce Monday whether it will cancel an evening flight to London.

Over the weekend, most tourists avoided the storm-whipped surf and rip currents along Bermuda's southern coast. Authorities posted signs announcing beach closures.

On Sunday night, the storm had maximum sustained winds of near 65 mph (100 kph), with higher gusts, and was centered about 160 miles (255 kilometers) southeast of Bermuda. Tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 140 miles (220 kilometers) from the center.

Bermuda native Mikaela Ian Pearman, 22, who lives on the island's eastern end, worried that the causeway that links her to the main island will close, preventing her from reaching the capital if she gives birth on her due date next Saturday.

"It scares me because of the fact that 'I don't do pain,'" she said, adding that she might stay with someone in Hamilton so she doesn't get trapped.

Bertha became the Atlantic season's first hurricane on July 7.

In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Elida swirled about 345 miles (555 kilometers) southwest of Cabo Corrientes, Mexico, and was headed farther out to sea, the hurricane center said. It had maximum sustained winds near 65 mph (100 kph) and was traveling west-northwest at 14 mph (22 kph).

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