SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Debby was downgraded to a tropical storm on Wednesday as it menaced the Bahamas after causing minor damage on several islands and just missing Puerto Rico. It was expected to regain strength over open waters and grow into a major storm as it nears south Florida.
The storm, dubbed "Little Debby" so far, is expected to become a hurricane again with wind speeds of up to 105 mph by an expected Friday approach southeast of Miami, said Krissy Williams, a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
By 11 a.m. Wednesday, Debby was about 155 miles southeast of the Bahamas' Grand Turk Island and charging west at 16 mph. It was no longer strong enough to be called a hurricane, with sustained wind of 70 mph. The threshold for a hurricane is 75 mph.
The Bahamas began sending soldiers to several southern islands on Tuesday and planned to send more to other islands Wednesday to prepare for the storm.
In Florida, emergency officials urged southern residents to begin paying close attention to weather reports. "We're like everybody else," said Elizabeth Hirst, spokeswoman for Gov. Jeb Bush. "In the wait-and-see mode."
South Floridians stuffed shopping carts with bottled water, canned food, milk, batteries and emergency supplies — just in case.
"It's good to be prepared because even if the hurricane doesn't hit, we may still get blackouts," said Clara Milanes, 64, who bought a battery-powered light and candles Tuesday at a Wal-Mart.
Hurricane warnings were posted for the Turks and Caicos, the southeastern and central Bahamas and the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Hurricane watches were in effect for the northern parts of the Bahamas, Haiti and Cuba.
Forecasters may post a hurricane watch in South Florida.
As a relatively minor hurricane on Tuesday, Debby brought some rain and little apparent damage to the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and a number of small islands like Antigua and Anguilla.
The only storm-related death was a San Juan man who slipped from his roof while trying to dismantle an antenna.
In Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of 4 million people, there was relief as Debby's eye passed just to the north. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands reopened schools and government offices Wednesday, and flights were expected to resume.
"We believe the conditions are adequate to return to normalcy," Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello said Tuesday.
Rains following in Debby's wake soaked Puerto Rico overnight, flooding and closing some main roads in San Juan.
The HOVENSA oil refinery on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix, which cut back production Monday and Tuesday, planned to resume normal operations .
Some tourists scrambled to board flights to the U.S. mainland earlier Tuesday, but others were more relaxed.
"I hope it's over soon, because I need a suntan by Sunday," said Diana WednesdayChiquito of New York City, sunbathing on San Juan's Condado beach, where many surfers enjoyed the higher waves.
In Dutch St. Maarten, battered in recent years by a series of hurricanes, officials reported no damage and reopened the airport.
"We've fared well. I'm looking outside at my garden, which was devastated by Hurricane Lenny last year, and it still has flowers," said Glen Holm, director of the tourism bureau on the Dutch island of Saba near St. Maarten.
Still churning in the northern Atlantic was Hurricane Alberto, the longest-lived August tropical storm on record. Alberto, which formed Aug. 4, was moving at 20 mph hundreds of miles east of Newfoundland.
On the Net:
National Hurricane Center: www.nhc.noaa.gov