Image: Hurricane Bill satellite image
NOAA via AFP-Getty Images
This image, based on satellite data, shows Hurricane Bill on Tuesday hundreds of miles east of the Leeward Islands and north of Venezuela. news services
updated 8/18/2009 8:50:40 PM ET 2009-08-19T00:50:40

Hurricane Bill, the first hurricane of the 2009 Atlantic season, strengthened into a Category 3 storm on Tuesday with top winds near 125 miles per hour, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Hurricanes of Category 3 or higher on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale are considered "major" and are the most destructive type.

Bill was moving through the Atlantic on a path that would take it west of Bermuda by the weekend. It looked likely to miss the U.S. East Coast and posed no threat to oil-producing areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

Meanwhile, people in flood-prone Haiti and the Dominican Republic awoke to good news Tuesday as it appeared Ana, the first named storm of the Atlantic season, had largely spared their shared island.

The two countries that share the island of Hispaniola are vulnerable to storms, with many impoverished people clustered along rivers, but there were no reports of major damage from the remnants of Tropical Storm Ana. The system had been downgraded to a tropical depression and then largely dissipated before reaching Haiti and the Dominican Republic. but its rains were still considered a potential threat.

"The rain fell but it did not hit anywhere very hard," said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti's civil protection department.

Haiti is particularly susceptible to catastrophic flooding because most of the trees have been stripped away to make charcoal and clear farmland and the bare, mountainous terrain cannot hold back the water. A series of storms last year killed hundreds of people and left thousands struggling to find food.

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