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Hurricane gains strength

Hurricane Cristobal was gradually gaining strength Tuesday as it headed over the Atlantic Ocean toward Bermuda after drenching parts of the Caribbean and causing at least five deaths.

The storm was centred about 590 miles (950 kilometres) southwest of Bermuda and had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph) as it approached the British island territory, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Hurricane force winds extended outward up to 45 miles (75 kilometres) from the centre, and tropical force winds extended outward up to 205 miles (335 kilometres). Cristobal was projected to pass northwest of Bermuda on Wednesday.

Before strengthening into a hurricane, Cristobal flooded parts of the Caribbean and halted flights in the drenched Turks and Caicos Islands. Government offices and banks were closed Monday on the low-lying islands that are highly vulnerable to flooding from heavy rains and storm surge, and authorities said many homes were flooded.

Officials in Turks and Caicos said some 12 inches (30 centimetres) of rain had been dumped since Friday. The hurricane centre said the islands, also a British territory, could expect as much as 3 more inches (8 centimetres) from the storm. On Monday, the governor's office reported one storm fatality, a body was recovered from floodwaters on the main island of Providenciales.

Cristobal also brought heavy rains to Puerto Rico, parts of the Bahamas and Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Two men in the Dominican Republic and two in Haiti died when they were caught up in waterways swollen by Cristobal's driving rains.

About 3,600 people were evacuated from communities in the Dominican Republic, according to Jose Manuel Mendez, director of the country's emergency operations centre. More than half returned to their homes by Monday.

Roughly 640 Haitian families were left temporarily homeless during the passage of the storm, said Luckecy Mathieu, a civil protection co-ordinator. At least 28 homes were badly damaged and four others were destroyed, he said.



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