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Rafael becomes hurricane as it churns toward Bermuda

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 8:55 PM EDT, Mon October 15, 2012
Two taxis were washed down to the shoreline when they tried to cross a flooded area on Bay Road in Basseterre, St. Kitts.
Two taxis were washed down to the shoreline when they tried to cross a flooded area on Bay Road in Basseterre, St. Kitts.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Rafael becomes a Category 1 hurricane
  • Officials advise residents to prepare, but say the storm should pass east of the island
  • Forecasters say they expect the tropical storm to become a hurricane Monday night

(CNN) -- As Rafael grew into a hurricane, residents and officials on the tiny island of Bermuda were expecting the storm to pass by Tuesday.

The island's top emergency official said residents and tourists should see strong winds and rough seas as the storm approaches but expressed confidence that Rafael's impact would be minimal.

"We are expecting the worst of the storm to pass to our east, and it will therefore be business as usual tomorrow," Wayne Perinchief, chairman of Bermuda's Emergency Measures Organization, said Monday.

Forecasters said the island might see 2 to 4 inches of rain from the storm.

The storm, with 85 mph winds, was centered about 545 miles (about 880 kilometers) south of Bermuda on Monday night, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was moving north at 10 mph, forecasters said.

"It's far enough away for our culture to not feel a threat yet. ... We're so used to this, season after season. Most people have their plywood in their garages at home, already pre-cut and labeled," said resident John Manderson.

"So often, we get storms that come so close."

The 46-year-old telecommunications consultant said the harbor waters near his office in Hamilton, Bermuda, were calm Monday.

Yet forecasters predicted the storm will become a hurricane later in the day. Authorities in Bermuda have issued a tropical storm warning, meaning tropical storm conditions are possible there within 36 hours.

That warning doesn't faze residents, Manderson said, but a change in the forecast might.

"If people feel like we're going to have a direct hit or a Category 1 only 100 miles or less away, you'll see people running around like crazy just to finish preparations," he said.

He updated CNN on Monday night, saying residents were still going on as normal but he expected to see residents take action in the morning.

While the National Hurricane Center expects Rafael will stay well to the east of the Bahamas through Monday night, it is warning of life-threatening surf conditions and rip currents on the eastward-facing beaches of the Bahamas over the next few days.

Farther south, the northern Leeward Islands, which were drenched by the storm over the weekend, can expect 1 to 3 additional inches of rain, bringing the total rainfall from Rafael in some pockets to as much as 12 inches, forecasters said.

"These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, especially in areas of mountainous terrain," the hurricane center said.

Read more: Tropical Storm Leslie expected to pass east of Bermuda

CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet, Nigel Walwyn and Greg Seaby contributed to this report.

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