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Tropical storm Chantal: Caribbean prepares as storm nears (+video)

Tropical storm Chantal makes its way towards the small islands of the Lesser Antilles late Monday afternoon. Forecasters say tropical storm Chantal could be near hurricane strength on Wednesday before it reaches Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Tracking tropical storm Chantal
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St. Lucia shuttered its school system on Monday and other nearby Caribbean countries urged residents to quickly prepare for the approach of Tropical Storm Chantal as it raced toward the small islands of the Lesser Antilles after forming in the Atlantic.

The fast-moving storm's maximum sustained winds were near 45 mph (75 kph) late Monday afternoon with some strengthening expected over the next two days. Chantal was centered about 390 miles (630 kilometers) east-southeast of Barbados and was moving west-northwest near 26 mph (43 kph).

The center of the tropical storm was expected to churn over the Atlantic and reach the small islands on the eastern rim of the Caribbean early Tuesday and then move into the Caribbean Sea. At this point, forecasters with the U.S. National Hurricane Center expect that wind shear and interaction with the mountains of Hispaniola and Cuba will cause Chantal to start weakening in about three days and it is expected to be a tropical depression Friday over the Bahamas.

But U.S. forecasters say Chantal could be near hurricane strength on Wednesday before it reaches Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Both countries are very vulnerable to flooding and landslides from storms, but widespread deforestation and ramshackle housing in Haiti mean even moderate rains are a significant threat.

In St. Lucia's capital of Castries, supermarkets, gas stations and hardware stores remained open on Monday and there were few signs of islanders stocking up on emergency supplies.

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