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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Hurricane Cristobal gradually gains strength, heads over ocean toward Bermuda

Community volunteer Edwin Schakeroh, left, helps Gavin Greely a resident fill sand bags in preparing for an expected storm surge in Long Beach, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. Southern California coastal areas are preparing for the arrival of big and potentially damaging surf spawned by Hurricane Marie spinning off Mexico's Pacific coast. (AP Photo/ Nick Ut )

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Community volunteer Edwin Schakeroh, left, helps Gavin Greely a resident fill sand bags in preparing for an expected storm surge in Long Beach, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. Southern California coastal areas are preparing for the arrival of big and potentially damaging surf spawned by Hurricane Marie spinning off Mexico's Pacific coast. (AP Photo/ Nick Ut )

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Hurricane Cristobal hurled heavy rains across Atlantic and Caribbean islands on Tuesday as it headed toward Bermuda, and officials said the storm had caused at least five deaths.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the hurricane would likely avoid a collision with the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, but it was generating life-threatening surf and rip current conditions from central Florida to North Carolina.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph), and it was expected pass northwest of Bermuda on Wednesday, and strengthen slightly by Thursday. On Tuesday night, it was centred 435 miles (700 kilometres) west-southwest of Bermuda and was moving north at 16 mph (26 kph). Hurricane force winds extended outward up to 60 miles (95 kilometres) from the centre.

Cristobal was expected to dump up to 4 inches (10 centimetres) of rain over Bermuda and lesser amounts over the already sodden Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos.

Hotel owners and tourist operators in Bermuda were dismayed at the forecast, noting that August already has been one of the rainiest months in recent history for the British island territory.

"It's been a ridiculous, endless amount of rain," said Marlie Powell, owner of the Kingston House Bed & Breakfast. "It's the height of our tourist season, so it's not a happy thing."

Turks and Caicos officials said flights resumed Tuesday at the islands' international airport, which closed as the hurricane dumped some 12 inches (30 centimetres of rain) on the islands. The governor's office reported one death after recovering a body from floodwaters on the main island of Providenciales.

"The situation on North Caicos is extremely serious," said Premier Rufus Ewing, who visited the island on Tuesday. "The flood water in some areas is perhaps 1,000 feet (309 metres) across and up to 5 feet (1.5 metres) deep in places."

The government said in a statement that it was debating whether to pump out floodwaters or use bulldozers to create new routes to reach some communities. Government offices on North Caicos remained closed.

In addition to the person who died in Turks and Caicos, floodwaters killed two men in the Dominican Republic and two people in Haiti, where roughly 640 families were left temporarily homeless.

Meanwhile in the Pacific, Hurricane Marie was weakening off Mexico's Pacific coast, though it was generating large, dangerous swells that were nearing the beaches of Southern California.

The hurricane's sustained winds had decreased to near 100 mph (155 kph) from a peak of 160 mph (260 kph) on Sunday. It was expected to slump to tropical storm force on Wednesday. Marie was centred about 675 miles (1090 kilometres) west of the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula and moving northwest near 15 mph (24 kph).

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Associated Press writer David McFadden contributed from Kingston, Jamaica.

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