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Islands batten down the hatches ahead of Tropical Storm Erika

Tropical Storm Erika has forced the closure of schools and airports as it cut a path towards Antigua and Barbuda.

Officials ordered the closures and prepared shelters ahead of the storm.

Authorities in Antigua and Barbuda warned of flash floods given the extremely dry conditions caused by the worst drought to hit the Caribbean in recent years. Boats at Shell Beach Marina on Antigua's north coast have been out of the water since Saturday, with people not taking chances as Erika approaches, said Caroline Davy, a marina employee.

"Too many times we've seen things happen that were not predicted," she said.

Authorities in the nearby Dutch Caribbean territory of St. Maarten said schools and government offices would close today. They also asked that casinos, restaurants and other businesses close by midnight last night. Officials warned they might temporarily suspend power and water service as the storm approaches.

The hurricane centre said Erika would move near Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands later today.

All airports in the US Virgin Islands would be closed to incoming flights until tomorrow.

"This is a fast-moving storm, and so we expect conditions to deteriorate rapidly," an official said.

Tropical storm warnings were issued for Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands and the Leeward Islands.

The storm is expected to be near South Florida by Monday, according to James Franklin, chief hurricane forecaster at the Miami-based centre.

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