Source AP ©

Hurricane Bertha to begin to weaken

Forecasters say Hurricane Bertha could begin to weaken within the next couple of days.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the Category 3 storm's maximum sustained winds were near 120 mph (193 kph) with some higher gusting.

As of 5 a.m. EDT (0900GMT) Tuesday the storm's center was about 675 miles (1,086 kilometers) east-northeast of the northern Leeward Islands and about 1,035 miles (1,666 kilometers) southeast of Bermuda.

Bertha is moving northwest toward Bermuda at about 10 mph (16 kph) but it is unknown if or when the hurricane will make landfall.

The hurricane center has projected 12 to 16 named storms in the Atlantic this season, with six to nine of them hurricanes. The Atlantic hurricane season runs through Nov. 30.

The name Bertha was not retired and was re-used in the 2002 season. It will next be used during the 2008 season.

In 1996, Hurricane Bertha was a tropical cyclone that formed in July of the 1996 Atlantic hurricane season. This Cape Verde-type hurricane caused some damage in the U.S. Virgin Islands before making landfall near Wilmington, North Carolina as a Category 2 storm, where it is best remembered as a forerunner of the much more destructive Hurricane Fran which struck just two months later.

750,000 people evacuated from the coastal areas of North and South Carolina in preparation for Bertha. In North Carolina, Bertha caused light damage, mostly along the beaches. Nearly 6,000 homes were damaged, with 900 of them being rendered uninhabitable. $135 million in insured damages were reported, with an estimated $270 million (1996 US dollars) in total damages in the United States.

Bertha also killed 12 people.

Photo provided by The Associated Press

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