Blasted: Hurricane Bill Forms as Tropical Storm Claudette Weakens

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(CNN) -- Bill became the first hurricane of the 2009 Atlantic season as it continued to gain strength but remained far from any shore Monday morning.

Claudette, on the other hand, became the first tropical storm to hit the U.S. mainland this year when it made landfall in the Florida Panhandle early Monday morning but weakened as it moved farther inland.

Claudette hit about 1:15 a.m. near the eastern end of Santa Rosa Island, just southeast of Fort Walton Beach in Florida, the National Weather Service said.

It is expected to move into southern Alabama later Monday morning and into northeastern Mississippi on Monday night.

Even before Claudette made landfall, the storm's outer bands pounded the area with heavy rain, with officials warning that some coastal areas had the potential for localized flooding.

The storm could bring 3 to 6 inches of rain, with some areas receiving up to 10 inches across portions of the Florida Panhandle, central and southern Alabama, and extreme southwestern Georgia. Storm surges and isolated tornadoes also were possible across portions of North Florida.

Authorities urged voluntary evacuations in the low-lying Alligator Point area of Florida's Franklin County because of concerns about possible flooding, said Mike Stone, spokesman for the Emergency Operations Center. He said he knew of no other evacuations in the state.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Bill was in the Atlantic heading west-northwest with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, the weather service said. The storm's center was about 1,160 miles (1,870 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles shortly at 5 a.m.

A third weather system, Ana, was downgraded from a tropical storm to a tropical depression.

Ana was about 95 miles (155 kilometers) southeast of St. Croix early Monday morning.

It was moving toward the west-northwest near 28 mph, and its maximum sustained winds were close to 35 mph, the weather service said.

It was expected to cross the coast of the Dominican Republic on Monday.

Tropical storm watches were in effect for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, St. Barthelemey and part of the Dominican Republic.

The governments of Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda discontinued their tropical storm watch.

Ana was expected to drop 2 to 4 inches of rain over the Leeward Islands, with maximum amounts of 6 inches possible over mountainous terrain, the hurricane center said.

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