Saturday's vote still on, for now Tropical Storm Bertha forms in Atlantic

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ST. THOMAS - The National Weather Service issued a tropical storm watch for the Virgin Islands after a low-pressure system located about 720 miles east-southeast of St. Croix became Tropical Storm Bertha late Thursday night.

At press time today, the storm was moving west-northwest at 20 mph with winds of 45 mph, and forecasters said rain is expected throughout the Virgin Islands later tonight.

Bertha, the season's second named storm, is forecast to bring heavy rain at times, continuing through Saturday night, with 1 to 3 inches of accumulation and up to 5 inches in the southeastern portion of the territory.

Tropical storm force winds can also be expected, especially in squalls and rain bands, according to the National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Forecasts at press time today indicate the tropical storm's center will pass south of Ponce, Puerto Rico, late Saturday.

V.I. government officials laid out preparedness plans Thursday afternoon, as is customary whenever a system approaches and is expected to pass through the territory.

The V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency led the discussion, which included leaders from the V.I. Water and Power Authority, Public Works, Tourism, Property and Procurement, Human Services, the Election System and the Governor's Office.

Also participating in the midday conference call were representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is dispatching a 20-person incident management assistance team to the territory today.

In terms of the islands' utilities, WAPA reported Thursday that has adequate fuel and water storage to serve all of the territory's customers.

Power plant personnel were securing generating equipment, water plants, fuel dock facilities, buildings and all other areas to minimize possible damage, and local and contracted companies are stand-by, in case their services are needed, according to a statement WAPA issued.

The Waste Management Authority also issued a statement, asking that the public dispose of its bulk waste, yard waste and scrap metal directly at the landfills or transfer stations.

Waste Management also said that the sewer collection system may experience a large inflow of storm water into the system, which may cause overflows in certain areas.

The flow of rain water and stormwater entering the sewer system may exceed the pumping capacity at various pump stations, which pump sewage from residences and businesses to the wastewater treatment plants.

Waste Management officials said in the case of flooding, residents - particularly persons with compromised immune systems - should avoid areas with standing water, and motorists should use caution when traveling on flooded roads.

VITEMA Director Elton Lewis said that the Public Works Department will issuing updates about which roads require maintenance, and which ones are temporarily blocked off, if need be and that crews will be on stand-by for needed repairs.

The V.I. Police Department expects to maintain all of its daily operations, according to V.I. Assistant Police Commissioner Thomas Hannah, and its staff are prepared to help additionally with clearing roads, directing traffic and enforcing any extra directives that may be applicable during and after a storm.

Coast Guard officials said port conditions will be placed by the Captain of the Port as assessments are completed and based on the updated weather forecasts.

National Weather Service meteorologist Ernesto Morales said Thursday that marine conditions are expected to be choppy and dangerous during the weekend.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email Elections System officials said Thursday they do not expect the election date to be compromised by the incoming low-pressure system reported by the National Weather Service.

Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes is expected to make an announcement by today if the primary election scheduled for Saturday must be moved, according to a statement issued Thursday by Government House.

In 1996, the Elections System had to change the date from a Tuesday to the following Saturday because of the arrival of Hurricane Bertha.

Fawkes said that the schedule of the election will not change, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., because it is required by the V.I. Code.

Assuming that the tropical wave does not turn into a cyclone, Fawkes said that she does not expect the forecasted wind and rain to interfere with voter turnout.

St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. said about 90 people came in to vote by walk-in absentee ballot Thursday.

Walk-in absentee ballots are available in each district's Elections office for people to vote if they believe they will not make it to the polls on Saturday.

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