The crew aboard the space shuttle Atlantis took this photo of Gordon on Sunday when it was still a hurricane.
updated 9/20/2006 12:49:08 PM ET 2006-09-20T16:49:08

Tropical Storm Gordon, downgraded from a hurricane Wednesday, approached portions of Spain and Portugal as it moved rapidly away from the sparsely populated Azores Islands.

Gordon was expected to join another weather system before it neared the Iberian peninsula later Wednesday or Thursday, said forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It would be similar to the strong winter storms normal in those areas in Europe.

The Galicia region in northwest Spain has been placed on red alert — the highest level — and 11 other regions of Spain as far east as Madrid and south to Andalusia were put on lower levels of warning, said Angel Rivera, a spokesman for Spain’s National Weather Institute.

Galicia was scorched by forest fires last month, so crews set up barriers on coastal areas to keep ash from flowing into the Atlantic and damaging the region’s lucrative fishing and seafood industry.

At 11 a.m. ET, Gordon had top sustained winds of 60 mph, down from 75 mph earlier in the day. Hurricanes have winds of at least 74 mph. The storm was moving east near 33 mph and its center was about 625 miles west of Portugal’s coast.

In the Azores as a hurricane, Gordon moved between the islands of Sao Miguel and Santa Maria. The eye didn’t make landfall and sustained wind of 56 mph was recorded on land, said Mark Willis, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center.

Authorities in Portugal’s islands said they received no reports of major damage or injury and hurricane warnings were discontinued in the sparsely populated chain.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Helene moved northeast in the open Atlantic and was expected to remain well east of Bermuda, forecasters said. It had top sustained winds of 105 mph.

At 11 a.m., it was centered about 670 miles southeast of Bermuda and moving toward the northwest near 12 mph. A gradual turn to the north was expected, forecasters said.

The Atlantic hurricane season began June 1 and ends Nov. 30. September is traditionally one of the busiest months of the season.

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