News & Current Affairs

August 17, 2008

Fay brings rain, wind to Cuba en route to Florida

Fay brings rain, wind to Cuba en route to Florida

HAVANA, Aug 17 (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Fay brushed Cuba’s southern coast with gusty winds and heavy rains on Sunday and was expected to move ashore overnight before heading toward Florida as a likely hurricane.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said maximum sustained winds were 50 mph (80 kph), but Cuban forecasters said gusts up to 66 miles per hour (110 kph) had been recorded at Cabo Cruz, which juts out into the Caribbean.

In its latest advisory, the hurricane center said Fay was cruising parallel to the coast at 17 miles per hour (27 kph) about 135 miles (215 km) west-southwest of the Cuban city of Camaguey, and 285 miles (460 km) south-southeast of Key West, Florida.

Fay, which killed at least five people when it struck Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Saturday, was crossing over warm waters — 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) — and expected to strengthen before going ashore in Cuba’s central provinces, forecasters said.

The hurricane center predicted Fay, the sixth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, would move slowly across Cuba overnight before emerging in the Florida Straits or Gulf of Mexico on Monday.

It said Fay could be near hurricane strength before striking Cuba and may be a hurricane, which means winds of at least 74 mph (118 kph), when it reaches Florida’s west coast.

Hurricane watches were posted along much of Cuba’s southern and northern coasts, including Havana, and in southern Florida.

Heavy rains were reported in some Cuban coastal provinces but so far only minor flooding and damage had occurred, officials said.

Rains up to 8 inches (20 cm) were possible, the Cuban Meteorological Institute said.

People in flood-prone areas were being evacuated, as were foreign tourists staying at coastal resorts in the storm’s path, they said.

In Guantanamo, the weather was not bad enough to stop the annual Carnival celebration, said Pedro Alvarez, 35, a resident of the coastal city that neighbors the controversial U.S. military detention center where the Bush administration holds more than 200 accused terrorists.

“Up to now there has been just a very light, off-and-on rainfall, so much so that last night the people continued celebrating Carnival,” he told Reuters.

FLORIDA EVACUATION

In the Florida Keys, 90 miles (144 km) north of Cuba, officials on Sunday initiated a Keys-wide evacuation of visitors. Anyone planning to visit the area in the next few days needs to postpone their trip, they said.

In Florida’s upper Keys, recreational vehicles, trucks hauling boats and other traffic were heading north and leaving the string of islands at the state’s tip, according to police.

“Traffic is reported to be bumper to bumper, but is flowing smoothly, albeit slowly,” the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department said.

At a briefing at the state’s emergency response center in Tallahassee, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, said the state had geared up for the storm. “Florida is prepared. We are ready. We are vigilant,” he said.

About 500 Florida National Guard troops have been deployed and some schools that were to open on Monday will be closed.

The hurricane center said it expected Fay to eventually hit Florida’s western coast, which is well east of the United States’ oil and natural production in the Gulf of Mexico.

But Shell Oil Co said on Saturday it was pulling 200 workers from offshore platforms as a precaution and on Sunday said it would take another 200 out.

In addition to the hurricane alert in Cuba, tropical storm warnings and watches were in effect for the Cayman Islands and southeastern Florida.

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