Noel becomes hurricane, but still poses no threat to U.S.

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Noel, the Atlantic hurricane season's 14th named storm, became a Category 1 hurricane Thursday as it moved away from the Bahamas on a northeasterly track well off the Florida coast, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The storm was centered midway between Bermuda and the North Carolina coast on Friday, packing winds of 80 mph.

However, Noel was expected to lose some strength and posed no threat to the U.S. East Coast other than rain as it moved toward Canada's Maritime Provinces.

Meanwhile, Noel had proven to be a devastating storm in parts of Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba earlier in the week.

The storm triggered landslides, mudslides, drownings and forced the evacuation of thousands of people from their homes with a death toll well above 100.

However, the main tourist areas in the Dominican Republic were not damaged, according to the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism. No damage to hotel complexes was reported in the major tourist areas of Bavaro, Bayahibe, La Romana, Punta Cana, Las Terrenas, Samana, Cabarete, Sosua, Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo, Juan Dolio, Boca Chica, Constanza or Jarabacoa.

"The hotel occupancy in the tourist areas of the country remains at 100%, and at 75% in the mountainous tourism region," said Felix Jimenez, minister of tourism for the Dominican Republic. "Despite the damages that resulted from Noel on a national level, all tourism infrastructure development will continue as planned."

The Dominican Ministry of Tourism also reported that all international flights had resumed earlier in the week, which enabled hotels to continue honoring vacation packages booked in that time frame.

The government of the Dominican Republic arranged for $200 million in emergency aid for the disaster-struck areas. The money will be used to repair damaged buildings and homes and construct temporary homes as well.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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