Fred weaker, but likely to drench Florida as tropical storm

This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows a Tropical Storm Fred in the Caribbean as it passes south of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic at 8am EST, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. (NOAA/NESDIS/STAR GOES via AP) (Uncredited)

SAN JUAN – Tropical depression Fred headed for a drenching of Cuba and the Bahamas on Thursday on a forecast track that would carry it toward South Florida as a tropical storm by Saturday.

The main threat to the U.S. appeared to be heavy rains affecting Florida and parts of the Southeast starting on Friday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

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Forecasters issued a tropical storm watch Thursday evening for the Florida Keys and the state's southwest coast. The hurricane center said 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 centimeters) of rain were expected across the Florida Keys and southern peninsula by Monday, with isolated maximums of 8 inches (20 centimeters).

The tropical storm watch is in effect for the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, and for the southwest coast of the Florida Peninsula from Bonita Beach to Ocean Reef, forecasters said.

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 the system had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph) Thursday night just north of Cuba's eastern tip.

The system was about 450 miles (720 kilometers) east-southeast of Key West, Florida. That was also about 200 miles (325 kilometers) southeast of Southern Andros Island in the Bahamas.

Fred was headed west-northwest at 9 mph (15 kph) on a track expected to take it just north of eastern and central Cuba during the night and on Friday. The hurricane center said Fred would begin to slowly strengthen on Friday and be near the Florida Keys and South Florida on Saturday.

Fred 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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