Tropical Storm Chris Weakens

The dark clouds and outer rain bands of Tropical Storm Chris are pictured just before sunset at the Old San Juan wall, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006. Tropical Storm Chris swept through the eastern Caribbean, skirting several islands but forcing cruise ships to change course and tourists to evacuate small islands as it threatened to turn into the first hurricane of the Atlantic season. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Tropical Storm Chris weakened slightly as it swept through the eastern Caribbean early Thursday, dumping rain on the Virgin Islands and prompting tourists to flee Puerto Rico's east coast.

Despite early concerns, the Bahamian government discontinued a hurricane watch in the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday.

The watch, discontinued at 5 a.m. EDT, included the Acklins, Crooked Island, The Inaguas, Mayaguana and the Ragged Islands. Tropical Storm Chris was expected to move away from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands sometime Thursday, forecasters said.

Its top maximum sustained winds were at 45 mph, down 15 miles from Wednesday night, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The center of the storm was about 315 miles east southeast of Grand Turk Island and about 135 miles north of San Juan.

At 11 p.m. Wednesday, wind speeds had reached as high as 60 mph, the hurricane center said.

Authorities in the Bahamas, an archipelago of 700 islands accustomed to stormy weather, had urged people to stock up on water and canned food and to board up their windows as the third named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season approached.

In Staniel Cay, about 75 miles south of Nassau, the Bahamas' capital city, boat owners secured their vessels and tracked the storm's progress through the eastern Caribbean.

"We're just battening down the hatches and tying everything down," said Ernie Sullivan, a boat owner at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. "You just can't say if this thing will pick up steam."

Some 600 tourists evacuated Culebra and Vieques, small islands off Puerto Rico's east coast, as the storm approached. The storm was projected to pass at least 100 miles north of Puerto Rico, but could produce strong wind gusts and up to 8 inches of rain, creating the risk of flash floods and mudslides.

People in the islands of Antigua and St. Maarten awoke to a light rain. There were no reports of major flooding or other damage from the storm.

Royal Caribbean, the cruise line operator, has altered the itineraries of three ships - the Navigator of the Seas, the Explorer of the Seas and the Freedom of the Seas - to avoid the storm.

In Anguilla, Chris brought heavy rain and strong winds overnight but the storm was much less severe than expected because it shifted to the north at the last minute, said Elizabeth Klute, director of the disaster management agency for the British Caribbean territory.

"It just kind of skirted us," Klute said. "It's moving on."

Richard Pasch, a hurricane specialist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, said the storm was likely to churn past the island of Hispaniola, which is shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where even minor storms can send water gushing down denuded hills.

"It would seem that it would stay on the fringes of the island as we're seeing this storm on a more westward track," Pasch said. "But it's a little uncertain at this stage."

The first named storm of the 2006 season, Tropical Storm Alberto, swept over Florida in mid-June, then plowed northward along the U.S. coast past the Outer Banks. It was blamed for one death.

Last season was the worst in more than 150 years of records. A record number of tropical storms and hurricanes formed, including the devastating Hurricane Katrina.