Hurricane Bonnie Gathers Speed

Hurricane Bonnie developed into a major hurricane in the Bahamas Sunday with 115-mph winds and began moving north toward the United States. CBS News Consultant Bryan Norcross reports.

The Atlantic season's first hurricane reached Category 3 status under the Saffir-Simpson scale. Nearly the size of Texas at 400-miles long, Bonnie is capable of serious damage to buildings and coastal flooding.

Residents of North Carolina and Florida began preparing for the hurricane's approach, with meteorologists predicting landfall sometime Tuesday.

The hurricane dwarfed the sparsely populated Bahamian islands, drenching them with some rain and gusty winds. Thunderstorms battered the open seas to its north, said National Hurricane Center forecaster John Guiney.

"The lucky thing isÂ…the Bahamas will not be feeling the full brunt of the storm," Guiney said. But he noted that Bonnie has been "very erraticÂ…meandering around," making forecasts less reliable.

Meteorological image map of Bonnie highlighted in red.

At 5 p.m. EDT Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said Bonnie's center was near latitude 24.8 north, longitude 71.8 west, about 180 miles east-northeast of San Salvador in the central Bahamas and moving slowly toward the northwest at about 5 mph.

"The seas are a little rough and we had some very strong winds at about 2 a.m. this morning, but nothing severe," San Salvador administrator Charles King said by telephone.

King said islanders had prepared because "they learned their lesson with Hurricane Lili" in 1996. Then, people tried to put up shutters as the storm smashed into the island, population 550 and a Club Mediterrean resort. There was flooding but no severe damage.

In South Florida -- which will mark the the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Andrew on Monday -- there was a sigh of relief even as the hurricane hovered at its door step. Forecasters insisted it would head northwest Sunday afternoon.

"The computer model remain consistent with the slow turn to the northeast," said meteorologist Daniel Brown, who is also with the center. "They feel pretty confident that it will happen. It's still worth watching. The official forecast has it going 250 miles east of the Carolinas."

The coastline, Brown noted, was within the 300-mile margin of error of a three-day forecast.

Along the North Carolina coast, where visions of hurricanes Fran and Bertha from 1996 remain vivid, some residents had a wait-and-see attitude about Bonnie.

"A lot of people are asking what's going on and where the storm is and what we know about it," said Carl Johnson, whose Pender County, N.C., store was damaged in 1996. "But there has been no panic buying of flashlights or batteries, at least not et."

For Sunday, though, Bonnie was still very much a Bahamian hurricane.

A hurricane warning was in effect for the central Bahamas and a hurricane watch for the northwestern islands. The hurricane warning was downgraded to a tropical storm warning in the southeastern Bahamas.

The islands closest to the hurricane were expecting waves 6 to 9 feet above normal, and Bonnie's storm surge and rain could cause flooding. Boaters headed for safe havens.

Three inches of rain was reported in the British Turks and Caicos Islands at the southeast end of the Bahamas chain on Saturday as the hurricane went past.

Meanwhile, another weather system -- Tropical Storm Charley - fizzled out after coming ashore in Texas Saturday.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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