Tropical Storm Chantal strengthens in the Caribbean

MIAMI,  (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Chantal strengthened today as it pulled away from the Lesser Antilles and moved into the eastern Caribbean Sea on a path toward Haiti and the Dominican Republic, U.S. forecasters said.

Chantal’s top sustained winds increased to 65 miles per hour (100 km per hour), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It was centered about 335 miles (540 km) southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and traveling west-northwest at 29 mph (46 kph).

Chantal, the third named storm of the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

On its current path, the storm is forecast to pass over the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Wednesday.

Forecasters said Chantal is expected to reach near-hurricane strength as it approaches Hispaniola, the island made up of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but remain a tropical storm.

Chantal could pose a particular threat to Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas which is vulnerable to flash floods and mudslides because of its virtually total deforestation.

Computer models show Chantal is then forecast to move over the Bahamas, with its eye remaining well off the U.S. coast over the weekend.

In Barbados, businesses and government offices were closed today as the storm buffeted the island.

Authorities in the Dominican Republic issued a hurricane watch for parts of the country. Tropical storm warnings were also in effect for Dominica, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and the northern coast of Haiti.

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