Strengthening Tropical Storm Gonzalo hits Antigua, approaches US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico

Associated Press

Tropical Storm Gonzalo buffeted the island of Antigua on Monday, downing trees, knocking out power and tearing roofs from homes as the system moved through the eastern Caribbean.

The storm was gaining strength as it passed through the Leeward Islands on a track toward the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and parts of Puerto Rico, potentially as a Category 1 hurricane, authorities said.

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Heavy rain and strong winds were expected to lash Antigua for several hours. Downed trees already blocked many island roads and people called radio stations to report that the storm had stripped all or part of the roofs from their homes.

Sherrod James, deputy director of the National Office of Disaster Services, ?said the agency has received reports of damaged homes but no injuries or deaths from the storm.

The government ordered schools and businesses to close amid an island-wide power outage and opened four emergency shelters.

"Based on recent updates, we are asking persons to stay within their homes and those persons who need to move from vulnerable areas to seek first to move with family and friends or if absolutely necessary to move to the shelters," Minister of Social Transformation Samantha Marshall said in a text message.

As of 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), the center of Gonzalo was about 10 miles (15 kilometers) northwest of Antigua and 220 miles (355 kilometers) southeast of St. Thomas. It had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph) and was moving toward the west at 10 mph (17 kph).

"It is strengthening very slowly," said Scott Stripling, a meteorologist tracking the storm from the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. "It's not out of the question that we could see it become a hurricane later this evening or tonight."

Gonzalo is expected to produce up to 8 inches (20. centimeters) of rain across the Leeward Islands, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Stripling said the latest forecast puts it on track to take a northwesterly turn, passing over the Virgin Islands and the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra.

Over the weekend, Tropical Storm Fay knocked out power to thousands in Bermuda before moving out over open ocean.

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Associated Press writer Ben Fox in Miami contributed to this report.