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Chantal Gains Strength - 2001-08-20

Tropical storm Chantal has gained strength in warm Caribbean waters, and is churning toward Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Chantal is packing winds of 113 kilometers per hour - just shy of hurricane status.

Chantal, the third named storm of this year's Atlantic Hurricane season, has been an on-again, off-again storm. Initially, a tropical depression as it neared the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles, it was then downgraded to a "tropical wave," when experts failed to find Chantal's center. But it began to pick up strength again Saturday, and is poised to become a weak hurricane possibly over the next 24 hours.

James Franklin of the National Hurricane Center in Miami says Chantal is centered southeast of the Yucatan Peninsula and heading on a northwesterly path. "Over the next day, day and a half, it will be moving in the vicinity of Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula, making landfall either in Belize or on the Yucatan in another 30 to 36 hours, or so," he explains. "And then, probably cutting across the Yucatan channel and, we think, entering the southern Gulf of Mexico two to three days from now."

Mr. Franklin says Chantal is moving quickly, at more than 20 kilometers per hour. This, he says, is good news, since the rapid movement will prevent the storm from dumping too much rain on any one area, once it makes landfall.

Lightning associated with Chantal has been blamed for two deaths in Trinidad and Tobago.