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Tropical Storm Debby no threat to land but expected to strengthen over open Atlantic

MIAMI (AP) _ Tropical Storm Debby was expected to stay away from land as it remained out in the open Atlantic, but another system north of Venezuela was on the verge of strengthening into a named storm, forecasters said Thursday.

A hurricane hunter aircraft flying in the Caribbean found a tropical depression with sustained winds that appear to be just below tropical storm strength of 39 mph, said James Franklin, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.

It was expected to become Tropical Storm Ernesto during the next day.

At 5 p.m. EDT, the depression was centered about 155 miles southwest of Martinique and about 455 miles south-southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Forecasters said it was moving west at about 22 mph.

Meanwhile, Debby was a threat ``to ships crossing the Atlantic but to those of us on the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., this is not a concern,'' said Jamie Rhome, another hurricane specialist.

At 5 p.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 1,080 miles west-northwest of the Cape Verde islands, which are located about 350 miles off the African coast. It was moving west-northwest at about 20 mph, and was expected to continue on that path for the next day, the hurricane center said.

The storm had top sustained winds of about 50 mph, with little change in strength forecast for the next day.

Debby is the fourth named storm of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season.
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