Tropical Storm Fay batters Cuba, threatens Florida
Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Reuters, Havana,- Tropical Storm Fay raked Cuba's southern coast with gusty winds and heavy rains on Sunday while tourists fled the Florida Keys as the storm threatened to reach the United States as a likely hurricane.

The sixth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, Fay has already killed dozens.

Around 50 people died in Haiti when a bus tried to cross a river swollen with rain, adding to the toll after five deaths in Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Saturday.

A middle-aged couple drowned in the Jamaican capital Kingston when their car was caught in a flooded crossing.

The US National Hurricane Center said the storm's maximum sustained winds were 80 km per hour, but Cuban forecasters said gusts up to 110 kph had been recorded at Cabo Cruz, which juts into the Caribbean.

Fay was cruising over warm Caribbean Sea waters at 17 kph about 330 km southeast of Havana and 430 km south-southeast of Key West, Florida, the hurricane center said.

The storm was expected to make landfall in Cuba around midnight, cross the island and enter the Florida Straits by mid-morning on Monday.

Hurricane watches were posted along much of Cuba's central and western coast, including Havana. But Jorge Rubiera, chief of Cuba's weather center, said he did not expect Fay to become a hurricane, which has minimum winds of 118 kph.

The US hurricane center said Fay would pick up steam once it is back over water and possibly hit the Florida Keys on Monday night as a hurricane. Hurricane watches were posted in the Keys and along Florida's west coast.

Heavy rains were reported in some Cuban coastal provinces but so far only minor flooding and damage had occurred. Rains up to 20 cm were possible, the Cuban Meteorological Institute said.

People in flood-prone areas had been evacuated, along with foreign tourists at coastal resorts in the storm's path, they said.

GUANTANAMO CARNIVAL

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 US 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.

In the Florida Keys, 144 km north of Cuba, officials started an evacuation of visitors. Recreational vehicles, trucks hauling boats and other traffic headed north from the islands at the state's tip, police said.

"Florida is prepared. We are ready. We are vigilant," Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, said in Tallahassee.

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 eventually to hit Florida's western coast, which is well east of US oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.

But Shell Oil Co pulled 400 workers from offshore platforms over the weekend and Marathon Oil said it would take an unspecified number of workers off its offshore facilities.

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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