Fred may regain tropical storm strength as it nears Florida

Tropical depression Fred was slowly strengthening and could regain tropical storm status sometime on Friday, ahead of its projected track towards the Florida Keys on Saturday and southwest Florida on Sunday, forecasters said.

The system was dropping heavy rain over parts of Cuba, where it was expected to keep moving along the island’s northern coast through Friday night. The main threats were rain and flooding. A tropical storm warning was issued Friday morning for the Florida Keys and Florida Bay. A tropical storm watch was in place for southwest Florida and parts of Cuba.

The hurricane center said 3 to 7 inches (7.5 to 18 centimeters) of rain were expected across the Florida Keys and southern peninsula by Monday, with isolated maximums of 10 inches (25 centimeters).

Once a tropical storm, Fred weakened back to a depression by its spin over Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where it knocked out power to some 400,000 customers and caused flooding that forced officials to shut down part of the country’s aqueduct system, interrupting water service for hundreds of thousands of people.

Local officials reported hundreds of people were evacuated and some buildings were damaged. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Heavy rains on Thursday continued to pound Hispaniola, which the two nations share.

The Miami-based U.S. hurricane center said Fred had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph) Friday morning and was centered just north of Cuba’s coast.

The system was about 315 miles (505 kilometers) east-southeast of Key West, Florida. That was also about 60 miles (95 kilometers) north-northwest of Camaguey, Cuba.

Fred was headed west-northwest at 10 mph (17 kph).

The system was expected to produce 3 to 5 inches (7.5 to 12.5 centimeters) of rain across the Dominican Republic and the western Bahamas, as well as 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5 centimeters) over Haiti, the Turks and Caicos, the eastern Bahamas, and Cuba.

Fred became the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season late Tuesday as it moved past the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

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