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Hurricane Erika Strengthens, Turns Away From...

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (AP) — An intensifying Hurricane Erikaturned its fury toward the North Atlantic today after brushing pastPuerto Rico and stirring up 15-foot swells that flooded coastalroads.

Erika's winds strengthened to 120 mph this morning, making it apowerful Category 3 storm, meteorologists said. At 11 a.m. EDT, thestorm was about 355 miles north-northeast of San Juan. It wasmoving north at near 7 mph and was expected to head for the NorthAtlantic over the next 24 hours.

Forecasters said Erika is no longer a threat to the northeasternCaribbean. Authorities canceled hurricane watches for Puerto Ricoand the Virgin Islands and officials said dangerous swells woulddiminish as Erika moved further north.

Elsewhere, the National Hurricane Center reported that a clusterof thunderstorms had developed midway between the African coast andthe Caribbean. But forecasters said it probably would not developinto a major storm anytime soon.

Erika's predicted damaging rains never materialized, a relief tothe U.S. commonwealth, which suffered flash floods and mudslidesthat killed most of the 20 victims of Hurricane Hortense last year.

But Sunday brought four inches of rain to St. Thomas, in theU.S. Virgin Islands, where about 100 families still live undertarpaulins replacing roofs torn off by Hurricane Marilyn in 1995.

Taking no chance of colliding with a strengthening Erika, sevenships forming the NATO Standing Naval Force Atlantic left Bermudahurriedly Sunday, heading for safe harbor in the Azores Islands.

Erika was the third hurricane of the Atlantic season. In July,Hurricane Billy dispersed harmlessly in the Atlantic but HurricaneDanny caused flooding in Alabama and South Carolina.

By MICHELLE FAUL,Associated Press WriterCopyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.

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