News & Current Affairs

September 16, 2008

Texas begins mass post-Ike rescue

Texas begins mass post-Ike rescue

Texas has begun what is being described as the biggest search and rescue effort in its history following Hurricane Ike.

At least 2,000 people have been rescued but many thousands more are believed to have ignored the mandatory order to evacuate before Saturday’s storm.

The death toll rose to 30 as Ike swept on from Texas into the mid-US, with heavy rain causing flooding.

Millions of people are without power and Houston is under a week-long curfew as work continues to restore services.

While many schools remained shut, there were signs of a return to normality on Monday, as the city’s two airports resumed limited services and some shops and restaurants opened for business.

Five people died in Galveston Bay, an island city south-east of Houston which bore the brunt of the storm as Ike swept ashore on Saturday, bringing 13ft (4m) waves and 110mph (175km/h) winds.

‘Stay away’

Rescuers feared the toll could rise as they searched areas awash with sewage for those who did not leave before the hurricane hit.

As many as 140,000 people – some 10,000 in Galveston alone – failed to heed the order to evacuate.

Across Texas, 50 helicopters, 1,500 federal, state and local search teams were looking for stranded survivors, and a US navy ship carrying engineers was heading to Galveston to help with rebuilding operations.

We’ll work as hard and fast as we can to help you get your lives back up to normal
US President George W Bush

Nearly 40,000 evacuees were being housed in 250 shelters across Texas – some with little money and no idea how long they would have to stay.

Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas urged residents to stay away until it was safe to return to their homes.

“There’s nothing to come here for,” she said. “Please leave.”

Warning that residents of Texas and Louisiana were in for “tough times”, David Paulison, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), said some people would “be out of their homes for not only weeks, but months”.

Fema has said it will deliver 7.5m meals as well as 5m gallons (20m litres) of water over the next few days.

President George W Bush, who is due to survey the damage on Tuesday, told those affected by the storm: “We’ll work as hard and fast as we can to help you get your lives back up to normal”.

Although Ike weakened to a tropical depression as it headed beyond Texas, the storm’s US death-toll rose to 30 as torrential rain caused severe flooding and power outages in parts of Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.

Ike killed more than 80 people when it tore through the Caribbean late last week.


Have you been affected by Hurricane Ike? Send us your comments and experiences
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September 12, 2008

Fears for package holiday firm XL

Fears for package holiday firm XL

Spanish beach

Tour operators have been hit by soaring fuel costs

Package holiday firm XL has filed for administration after experiencing financial difficulties, reports say.

The firm is Britain’s third biggest tour operator and flies to 50 destinations, mainly in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

XL is the latest travel firm to face financial difficulties as the industry struggles with sky-high fuel costs and an economic downturn.

Low-cost transatlantic airline Zoom collapsed last month.

A Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said the company currently continued to hold a license to operate as a tour operator and commercial airline.

He said: “It has not been confirmed to us that XL have filed for administration.”

Financial protection

The carrier had already cancelled its schedule of flights to the Caribbean.

If the firm were to collapse, package holidaymakers would be protected under the Atol scheme, a financial protection package.

Administrators might be able to help the company continue.

“But many companies have gone into administration and not survived, it’s a sign there is severe problems with the company’s accounts,” he said.

“Other airlines who have had similar problems have had aircraft impounded.”

If the news is true, it is a major, major thing for the industry
Bob Atkinson, Travel Supermarket

Travel writer, Simon Calder, described XL’s airline operation: “A pretty large airline with 21 aircraft, [it] flies all over the world, the Caribbean; Mediterranean; North Africa and North America, from airports across the UK.

“It does most charter work, but also quite a lot of – effectively – no-frills, scheduled work.”

Bob Atkinson, of the price comparison website Travel Supermarket said XL’s troubles would be blow for the travel trade.

He said: “If the news is true, it is a major, major thing for the industry, the British travel industry. They are a very large operator and this will send serious shock waves through the industry.

“And what it’s going to do more than anything, it’s going to highlight how precarious the airline industry is at the moment.”

XL customer Marion Foster of Thame, Oxfordshire, has a flight booked to Rhodes next week and was contacted by customer services on Wednesday to ensure her tickets had arrived.

She said: “At the time I thought it was a nice customer service touch to receive such a phone call but now I don’t know what to think.

“As I only booked flights with them it looks like I will lose my money which seems somewhat unfair.”


Are you affected by the issues in this story? Do you have a holiday booked with XL? Send us your comments and experiences

Evacuations as Ike approaches US

Evacuations as Ike approaches US

Residents in the US state of Texas have begun to evacuate as Hurricane Ike churns through the Gulf of Mexico.

About one million people have been advised to leave their homes, and the authorities have laid on more than 1,000 buses to facilitate the exodus.

Meteorologists warned Ike could develop into a major hurricane before hitting the Texas coast late on Friday.

Ike has killed more than 70 people in the Caribbean, with Haiti and Cuba particularly badly hit.

The US has pledged $10m (£5.7m) in aid to Haiti, where the UN estimates 800,000 people are in temporary shelters.

And Washington offered $100,000 in initial aid to Cuba, whose government has been subject to a US trade embargo for four decades.

Cuba turned the offer down, asking instead that the US sells it supplies on credit.

Supplies hit

Men board up a house in Galveston, Texas (11/09/2008)

People have been boarding up their property in Galveston, Texas

National Hurricane Center (NHC) projections show Ike reaching the US coast by late on Friday, but say the storm’s path could veer.They say Texas could be lashed with 130mph (208km/h) winds and a 20ft (6m) storm surge above normal tide levels as the storm approaches the coast.

NHC warned that because the storm is so large, weather along the coast is expected to deteriorate long before it hits land.

Tropical storm force winds currently extend up to 275 miles (445KM) from the Ike’s center.

Almost all energy production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut down as a precaution, but the US department of energy said the storm was expected to miss most of the installations.

At 1500 GMT forecasters said the eye of the storm was about 470 miles (760km) east of Galveston on the Texas coast, moving at about 10mph (17 km/h).

The mayor of Galveston, Lyda Ann Thomas, has issued a mandatory evacuation order for the city and said no shelters will be opened.

“Those who stay here and don’t voluntary evacuate, we are asking to simply stay at home,” she said.

The city is providing 75 buses to transport city resident to the state capital, Austin.

Several other counties along the coast have announced mandatory or voluntary evacuations.

‘Buses, not body bags’

Hurricane Ike’s projected path

The authorities have begun moving weak and chronically-ill hospital patients to San Antonio, about 190 miles from Houston.Texans described businesses being boarded up and residents taking to the roads en masse.

“Probably every mobile home in the state was on the road,” said Margaret Romero, a 67-year-old from Corpus Christi.

“Every house on our street was boarded up,” she told Reuters.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who organized 1,350 buses to help residents leave, said he believed some were likely to resist evacuation calls but added that he wanted to see “buses, not body bags”.

Earlier, President George W Bush had declared a federal emergency in Texas, allowing funds to be freed to help the state deal with the storm.

Aid appeal

Ike is currently a Category Two storm, with winds of 100mph, but forecasters say it is likely to strengthen on its way through the Gulf of Mexico.

RECENT MAJOR STORMS
Hurricane Ike: September
Tropical Storm Hanna: September
Hurricane Gustav: August, September
Tropical Storm Fay: August

In Cuba, the storm killed four people, wrecked tens of thousands of buildings and destroyed crops.The UN estimates the cost of the damage at between $3bn-$4bn.

The island nation was already reeling from the impact of Hurricane Gustav, which destroyed about 100,000 homes when it hit the island at the end of August.

Ike earlier caused 66 deaths in Haiti and reportedly damaged 80% of the homes in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, has endured the onslaught of four tropical storms in a three-week period, causing more than 550 deaths.

The UN has appealed for more than $100m in international aid to assist Haiti, where most people already lived on less than a dollar a day.

September 7, 2008

New hurricane menaces Caribbean

New hurricane menaces Caribbean

Caribbean nations are bracing for another major storm, Hurricane Ike, coming just days after Tropical Storm Hanna passed through the region.

Ike has regained strength after weakening, with winds of up to 135mph (215km/h) as it nears the Turks and Caicos islands and the Bahamas.

Cuba has issued a hurricane watch for its eastern provinces.

Haitian officials have said that at least 500 people have been found dead as floodwater’s caused by Hanna recede.

That storm has hit the US south-east coast and is dropping torrential rain on North and South Carolina.

Storm warnings are in force along the Atlantic coast from Georgia to New Jersey.

‘Major hurricane’

Hurricane Ike gained strength to Category Four on the Saffir Simpson scale – an “extremely dangerous hurricane” – after weakening slightly earlier on Saturday, said the Florida-based National Hurricane Center (NHC).

As of 2100 GMT, Ike was tracking west south-west, moving at 15mph about 90 miles (145km) east of Grand Turk Island.

SAFFIR-SIMPSON SCALE
Cat 1: Winds 74-95mph (119-153km/h). No real damage to buildings
Cat 2: Winds 96-110mph (154-177km/h). Storm surge 6-8 feet (1.8-2.8 metres) above normal
Cat 3: Winds 111-130mph (178-209km/h). Major hurricane. Coastal flooding destroys smaller structures
Cat 4: Winds 131-155mph (210-249km/h). Large storm surge and widespread damage to smaller buildings
Cat 5: Winds greater than 155mph (249km/h). Small buildings blown away, roofs on large buildings destroyed. All trees and signs knocked down. Widespread coastal flooding.
Source: US National Hurricane Center

The NHC said the storm was expected to pass near or over the Turks and Caicos islands and the south-eastern Bahamas late on Saturday or early Sunday.

After Hanna pummeled the low-lying Turks and Caicos, a British territory to the north of Haiti, earlier in the week, many residents and visitors decided to leave.

Authorities decided to close the airport in Providenciales at mid-day on Saturday.

Ike should hit the northern coast of eastern Cuba by late Sunday or early Monday, according to the NHC forecast.

If it stays on its projected course, Ike will cut across the island from east to west, putting the crumbling colonial buildings of the capital, Havana, at risk.

A storm surge of up to 12ft (3.6m) is expected along with “large and dangerous battering waves” and heavy rainfall, the NHC said.

The center of the hurricane is forecast to pass to the north of Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.

But Haiti, already reeling from three major storms in as many weeks, will not be spared, with up to 12in (30cm) of rain due to fall.

As floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Hanna receded, Haitian officials said more than 500 people had been killed.

Hurricane Gustav last week and Tropical Storm Fay two weeks ago killed about 120 people.

Hardest hit by Hanna was the city of Gonaives, which was flooded with up to 16ft of water that has only now begun to recede.

The devastation there has been described as catastrophic.

Police said 500 people were confirmed dead but that others are still missing and the number could rise higher.

The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) said hundreds of thousands of people had been displaced by the flooding.

The WFP has begun distributing food aid but a spokesperson said the scale of the disaster was putting their resources to the test.

Other aid workers say people’s spirits are running low after the successive storms.

“Food supplies and water are scarce and the price of the food that’s left is rising,” said Parnell Denis from Oxfam in Gonaives.

“The morale of people staying in the shelters is so very low; I am afraid to tell them that another storm is on its way.”

More bad weather will hamper the aid effort even further.

In the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, there have been no reports of major damage.

However, preparations are under way for the arrival of Hurricane Ike.

“The ground is saturated and some of the dams in the south-east region are fairly close to their maximum capacity,” said meteorological official Gloria Ceballos.

Civil defense director Colonel Juan Manuel Mendez said Dominican troops had been put on alert.

Map of Hurricane Ike's predicted route


Are you in the Caribbean? Have you been affected by the storms? What preparations have you made to deal with the adverse weather? Send us your comments and experiences

September 1, 2008

Gustav changes Republican plans

Gustav changes Republican plans

Republican presidential candidate John McCain has suspended most events planned for day one of his party’s convention because of Hurricane Gustav.

The convention, due to begin on Monday in Minneapolis, was scaled down as the fierce storm approached New Orleans.

Gustav, now a Category Three storm, is due to make landfall on Monday.

Residents of New Orleans have been told to leave the city. The mayor has imposed an overnight curfew and warned looters they will be sent to jail.

Speaking in Mississippi, Mr McCain said it was important to tone down the traditional pomp and flair of convention week.

Predicted route of Hurricane Gustav (31 August 2008)

“Of course this is a time when we have to do away with most of our party politics,” Mr McCain told reporters.

President George W Bush and VP Dick Cheney have scrapped plans to address the convention on Monday. Mr Bush said he would instead go to Texas to monitor relief efforts.

Mr McCain’s campaign chartered a jet to fly worried delegates back to their home states threatened by the hurricane, which is set to hit the Louisiana coast on Monday.

‘Hope and pray’

After returning from a tour of relief preparations in Mississippi, he said convention delegates needed to “take off our Republican hats, and put on our American hats and we say America, we’re with you”.

The Republicans are keen to avoid the kind of political damage incurred by the Bush administration’s clumsy response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

Justin Webb
Plainly the backdrop of images of destruction reminding Americans of Katrina will be horrible for the Republicans
BBC North America editor Justin Webb

Republicans clearly cannot afford to be seen hosting glamorous political events, while the people of New Orleans are once again fleeing their city, he says.

“I hope and pray we will be able to resume some of our normal operations as quickly as possible,” McCain told reporters via a video link from St Louis.

“I have every expectation that we will not see the mistakes of Katrina repeated,” he added.

Mr McCain’s convention manager Rick Davis said the convention would open for just over two hours on Monday, solely to go through procedures necessary under law to begin the process of nominating a president and vice-president.

National Guard troops on the streets of New Orleans

The streets of New Orleans were empty as a curfew loomed

The formal business of the convention includes, on Wednesday, the formal nomination of the Arizona senator for president and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Mr McCain’s acceptance speech, set for prime time on Thursday evening, is deemed to be among the most important events of the campaign for his chances of winning the White House in November.

Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Barack Obama said he would open up his vast donor list to channel money or volunteers to help recovery efforts, in response to Gustav.

“We can activate an e-mail list of a couple [of] million people who want to give back,” Mr Obama told reporters after attending church in Lima, Ohio.

Exodus

New Orleans residents have been fleeing in their thousands after Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a full evacuation of the city.

FLASHBACK TO KATRINA
Hurricane Katrina evacuees
Katrina struck US Gulf Coast in August 2005 as a category three storm, killing more than 1,800 people
New Orleans was 80% flooded after storm surge breached protective levees
US Government was blamed for slow, botched response that exacerbated disaster
Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced

Roads out of the Louisiana port – much of which lies below sea level and is protected from flooding only by a fragile system of levees – have been crammed with traffic.

Mr Nagin said that the first storm winds could hit New Orleans as early as daybreak on Monday and the hurricane could reach Category Four strength.

America’s homeland security chief, Michael Chertoff, said the main evacuation was going well but he warned that people hoping to ride out the storm would be “exceptionally foolish”.

The evacuation comes almost exactly three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

In 2005, three-quarters of the city was flooded after a storm surge breached its protective levees. More than 1,800 people died in coastal areas.

Gustav has already claimed the lives of more than 80 people in the Caribbean, causing widespread damage in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica over the past week.

At least 300,000 people were evacuated in Cuba as the storm brought extensive flooding and some severe damage, but no reports of deaths.


Have you been affected by Gustav? Are you preparing for its arrival? Send us your comments and experiences

August 30, 2008

Gustav strengthens off west Cuba

Gustav strengthens off west Cuba

Hurricane Gustav has strengthened into a “major” category three storm as it nears western Cuba, US forecasters say.

Cuban civil defence forces have been put on alert, and a mass evacuation is under way in low-lying coastal areas, where mudslides and floods are feared.

Gustav has already struck the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, killing more than 70 people.

It could become a category four storm over the weekend as it passes over warm waters and heads for the US Gulf Coast.

Predicted route of Hurricane Gustav (29 August 2008)

Cuban authorities have evacuated more than 60,000 people from low-lying coastal areas in Pinar del Rio and Isla de la Juventud before Gustav hits, and have mobilised medical and emergency rescue teams to deal with the possible aftermath.

All buses and trains to and from Havana have also been suspended until further notice.

The Caribbean island has one of the most efficient disaster preparedness and evacuation organisations in the region, but that the poor condition of housing in the capital could pose additional risks in a major storm.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has said it expects a “huge number” of residents will be told to leave the region over the weekend.

Gustav’s approach came as New Orleans buried some of the last unidentified victims of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city in 2005.

Cuba concern

As of 1000 GMT on Saturday, Gustav had become a “major” category three hurricane with wind speeds of up to 185km/h (115mph) as it passed about 220km (135 miles) south-east of Isla de la Juventud and about 410km (255 miles) east-south-east of the western tip of Cuba, the US National Hurricane Center said.

We look ahead to a better day, as we also prepare ourselves for another threat
Ray Nagin
Mayor of New Orleans

The storm will move away from the Cayman Islands on Saturday morning at about 19km/h (12mph) before passing through western Cuba later in the afternoon and into the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.

Gustav has already claimed the lives of at least 59 people in Haiti, eight in the Dominican Republic and four in Jamaica, where heavy rains caused flooding and strong winds tore roofs off houses.

There have so far been no reports of any casualties from the Cayman Islands, where storm surge and heavy rains flooded streets overnight.

The government did not impose a curfew, but urged people to remain indoors to avoid interfering with emergency workers.

Gustav’s projected path also takes it over the oil-producing Gulf of Mexico, where workers have been evacuated from several rigs.

Katrina compassion

New Orleans buried the last seven unclaimed bodies of Katrina at a memorial site on Friday as the biggest storm to hit the region since approached.

A memorial service in New Orleans for victims of Hurricane Katrina (29/08/2008)

New Orleans buried the last unclaimed bodies from Katrina on Friday

“We look ahead to a better day, as we also prepare ourselves for another threat,” said Mayor Ray Nagin.

Later, Mr Nagin said an evacuation order was likely, though not before Saturday.

Gustav is forecast to make landfall on the US Gulf Coast anywhere from south Texas to Florida by Tuesday, prompting four states to plan large-scale evacuations.

Emergency officials have warned that a tidal storm surge up to nine metres (30ft) is possible along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

US President George W Bush has declared a state of emergency in Louisiana and Texas, allowing the federal government to co-ordinate disaster relief and provide assistance in storm-affected areas.

Gustav is the second major hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.


Have you been affected by Gustav? Are you preparing for its arrival? Send us your comments and experiences

August 25, 2008

Americans die in Guatemala crash

Americans die in Guatemala crash

Five US aid workers are among 10 people who died in a plane crash in Guatemala on Sunday, police in the Central American state say.

The Guatemalan pilot and co-pilot were also killed when the small aircraft crashed about 90km (55 miles) east of the capital, Guatemala City.

Four other Americans injured on the plane were airlifted to hospital.

Initial reports suggest engine failure was to blame for the crash of the single-engine Cessna Caravan 208.

Victims’ bodies were reportedly badly burnt, making it difficult to identify them and establish their nationalities.

‘The engine just stopped’

The pilot reported engine trouble about 45 minutes after take-off and tried to make an emergency landing, Civil Aviation director Jose Carlos said.

Guatemalan emergency services ferry an injured person to safety

The survivors were evacuated by helicopter from the site

The plane, which had been en route to El Estor close to the Caribbean coast, came down in a field of crops.

The survivors were ferried to Guatemala City by helicopter.

US citizen Sarah Jensen, 19, said her father and brother had been killed and her mother badly burned on her arms and legs.

“Ten minutes before [the crash] the engine just stopped and then we coasted,” she told Reuters news agency, as she limped across the tarmac.

“We tried to land in a field but we overshot. The people on the left side of the plane were okay because there was a big door.”

Ms Jensen and her family had been on a mission to build houses in a village near El Estor.

August 20, 2008

Tropical storm hugs Florida coast

Tropical storm hugs Florida coast

Tropical Storm Fay is continuing northwards, with northern Florida and much of Georgia set for a drenching, the US National Hurricane Center says.

Fay is following an erratic path, hugging the Florida coastline, instead of heading out over the ocean.

Forecasters say this makes it less likely that Fay will strengthen to a hurricane, but parts of north Florida and Georgia are still on alert.

Fay was blamed for at least a dozen deaths in the Caribbean.

Path of storm

A state of emergency had been declared for what is the sixth tropical storm of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season, but officials dropped the hurricane warning early on Tuesday after Fay made landfall near Naples on Florida’s west coast.The storm brought drenching rain and winds of 65mph (105km/h) across the state.

Several tornadoes were also reported, with one ripping through Brevard County damaging more than 50 homes.

Fay then reached Florida’s east coast at 0200 local time (0600 GMT) on Wednesday, about 15 miles (24km) south-southeast of Melbourne. Its maximum sustained winds remained near 50mph (80km/h).

At 1200 GMT, the centre of Fay was close to Cape Canaveral, moving northwards at 5 mph (8km/h) but its wind speed had lessened to 45mph (70km/h).

However a hurricane watch remained in effect for the east coast north of Flagler Beach, Florida, to Altamaha Sound, Georgia.

In south-east Georgia, Camden County officials sent out teams to clean out storm drains and ditches in preparation for possible flooding.

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency has also started a 24-hour monitoring operation of the storm.

Hope for farmers

A forecast from the National Hurricane Center on Tuesday predicted that the storm’s path would take it through Alabama over the weekend.

However, the heavy rain has not been bad news for everyone. Farmers in drought-hit areas of southern Georgia are hoping for a visit from Fay.

“It’s very seldom we’re hoping for a hurricane, but we are,” said Randy Branch, a cotton and peanut farmer in south-east Georgia. “We need some rain pretty bad.”

Initially, Fay drenched parts of Cuba, but its passage over Haiti and the Dominican Republic was more destructive, with more than a dozen deaths reported.

August 19, 2008

Florida braced for tropical storm

Florida braced for tropical storm

Map

The US state of Florida is braced for Tropical Storm Fay, which is thought to have claimed dozens of lives on its rampage through the Caribbean.

Forecasters warned Fay could reach hurricane force as it approached the Florida peninsula.

The storm’s center has already crossed Florida Key West with winds near 60mph (97km/h), flooding some roads.

Florida’s Governor Charlie Crist warned that Fay threatened a “major disaster”, but he insisted the state was prepared.

With a state of emergency in place, Mr Crist said some 500 national guard members had been deployed, with another 8,500 on standby.

The US National Hurricane Center said the storm still had the potential to top sustained winds of 74 mph (119 km/h) by the time it hits the west coast of Florida early on Tuesday.

Across Florida at least 22 school districts, a number of colleges and a university have canceled classes.

HOW HURRICANES FORM
NOAA satellite image showing tropical storm Fay over Cuba (17 August 2008)
Sea surface temperatures above 26.5C (79.7F)
A pre-existing weather disturbance
Moisture in the atmosphere
Favourable conditions, such as light winds or weak wind shear

Residents of Miami have been stocking up on bottled water, fuel and other vital supplies.

The main highway linking the Keys to the mainland was choked with traffic on Sunday as thousands of tourists evacuated.

But not everyone was hunkering down – hundreds of surfers flocked to Miami beaches to take advantage of the huge swells created by the storm.

In Cuba, Fay caused some flooding and damaged a number of homes, although no deaths were reported.

But a number of lives were lost in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The worst incident was in Haiti, where a truck carrying up to 80 passengers plunged into a swollen river.

Officials there said more than half the passengers were missing, with many feared drowned.

Fay is the sixth tropical storm of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.

Two of the tropical storms so far, Bertha and Dolly, have reached hurricane strength.


Has Tropical Storm Fay affected you? Are you in Florida preparing for the storm to hit? Send us your comments

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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