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Saturday, August 28, 1999 Published at 23:09 GMT 00:09 UK

World: Americas

Hurricane approaches United States

Shoppers in South Carolina stocking up before the storm

Hurricane Dennis has battered the Bahamas, and is gaining strength as it moves towards the United States.

Forecasters are predicting that it could become a Category 3 storm with winds up to 130 mph (210 kph) within 48 hours.

The BBC's Alice Coulter reports: "The hurricane season is now in full swing"
The hurricane's progress - still at a sedate 6mph (9km/h) - is expected to bring it to the US coast somewhere between northern Florida and North Carolina. Latest reports say its centre is about 180 miles east of Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Boat owners in coastal communities have been moving their vessels inland or securing them in harbours, while federal disaster officials are drawing up plans for a possible evacuation if the hurricane hits land.

Click here to see a map of the hurricane's path

Strong winds battered the northern Bahamas, reportedly tearing up trees and utility poles, and damaging construction sites.

[ image: Thousands on the US coast brace themselves]
Thousands on the US coast brace themselves
The Grand Bahamas were hit by "maximum sustained winds" of 80mph (130kp/h), with stronger gusts, but hurricane warnings were discontinued for the islands of Eleuthera and Berry.

Weather watch

Hurricane Dennis could hit the coasts of North and South Carolina around Tuesday, but there is also a possibility that it could veer away.

"Some of the [computer] models show that it may miss the coast," said Jerry Jarrell, director of Miami's National Hurricane Centre.

Weather forecasters have advised the people of Florida and Georgia, as well as the Carolinas, to maintain a careful watch on the storm's progress.

As well as strong winds and heavy rain, the NHC warns that Hurricane Dennis is "accompanied by large and dangerous battering waves" and "storm surge flooding" 4ft to 8ft (1 - 2.5 metres) above normal levels.

No decision on evacuation

In North Carolina, several hundred troopers of the National Guard and state police have been put on alert, and residents have responded promptly to calls for urgent preparation.

[ image: Homes are being boarded up in North Carolina as the storm approaches]
Homes are being boarded up in North Carolina as the storm approaches
Many have boarded up their windows, as well as stockpiling supplies of water, tinned food and batteries.

In South Carolina, no decision has yet been made on a possible coastal evacuation.

A second hurricane, Cindy - which is still strengthening - is expected to move westward towards Bermuda over the next few days, bringing winds of 90mph (140km/h).

[ image:  ]

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