Fred may regain tropical storm strength as it nears Florida

This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows a Tropical Storm Fred in the Caribbean as it passes south of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic at 8am EST, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. (NOAA/NESDIS/STAR GOES via AP) (Uncredited)

HAVANA – Tropical depression Fred was moving along Cuba's northern coast and could regain tropical storm status as it moves towards the Florida Keys on Saturday and southwest Florida on Sunday, forecasters said.

Meanwhile, still east of the Caribbean Sea, forecasters were watching a tropical depression that they said would likely become Grace, the seventh named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. A tropical storm warning was in effect for several islands including Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Fred had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph) and was dropping heavy rain over parts of Cuba, where the main threats were rain and flooding. A tropical storm warning was discontinued Friday night for a portion of the Florida Keys, including Florida Bay. The warning remained for the Florida Keys west of the Seven Mile Bridge to the Dry Tortugas.

Forecasters said little change in strength was expected in coming hours, though Fred could regain tropical storm status again on Saturday.

The hurricane center said 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 centimeters) of rain were expected across the Florida Keys and southern peninsula by Monday, with isolated maximums of 8 inches (20 centimeters).

No evacuations are planned for tourists or residents in Monroe County, Keys officials said Friday. The county’s emergency management officials are advising people in campgrounds, recreational vehicles, travel trailers, live-aboard vessels and mobile homes to seek shelter in a safe structure during the storm.

Once a tropical storm, Fred weakened back to a depression by its spin over Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where it knocked out power to some 400,000 customers and caused flooding that forced officials to shut down part of the country's aqueduct system, interrupting water service for hundreds of thousands of people. Local officials reported hundreds of people were evacuated and some buildings were damaged.

Fred's center was about 150 miles (245 kilometers) south-southeast of Key West, Florida, and about 45 miles (75 kilometers) southeast of Varadero, Cuba. It was headed west at 12 mph (19 kph).

The system was expected to produce 2 to 5 inches (5 to 12.5 centimeters) of rain across portions of Cuba, as well as 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5 centimeters) across the Bahamas.

Fred became the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season late Tuesday as it moved past the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.