Monday, August 28, 2006

Ernesto hits Cuba, on track for Florida

Aug. 28, 2006, 8:16AM

Ernesto hits Cuba, on track for Florida

By ANITA SNOW Associated Press Writer
© 2006 The Associated Press

HAVANA — Tropical Storm Ernesto hit Cuba west of the U.S. naval air base
at Guantanamo on Monday after killing one person Haiti as it stayed on
track toward Florida, where forecasters expect it to strengthen into a

Cuba ramped up emergency preparations before the fifth named storm of
the Atlantic hurricane season moved ashore about 20 miles west of
Guantanamo with top sustained winds dropping to 45 mph.

At 8 a.m. EDT, Ernesto was about 515 miles southeast of Key West, Fla.,
moving northwest at 12 mph.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush declared an emergency, ordering tourists to
evacuate the Florida Keys.

"We do expect it to reach the Gulf, maybe as a Category 1 hurricane,
possibly a Category 2," said John Cangialosi, a meteorologist with U.S.
National Hurricane Center in Miami. "It's difficult to say where it will
be, but in three days we're projecting it anywhere from the eastern Gulf
near the Florida panhandle to the western Bahamas."

Ernesto became the Atlantic season's first hurricane on Sunday morning
with maximum sustained winds of about 75 mph before weakening Monday.

Apparently diminished by Haiti's mountainous southwestern peninsula,
Ernesto was expected to regain strength after traversing Cuba's rough

Forecasters issued a hurricane watch Monday for the southern peninsula
of Florida. A hurricane watch remained in effect for all of the Florida

The Cuban government issued a hurricane warning for six eastern
provinces and Cuban state television broadcast extensive warnings about
the storm, urging precautions. Cattle were moved to higher ground,
tourists were evacuated from hotels in the southeastern province of
Granma, and baseball games scheduled for Sunday night in Havana were
played earlier in the day.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for Jamaica and the central Bahamas.

Cruise ship companies said they were diverting several liners to avoid
the storm.

In Haiti, Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of the civil protection
agency, said one person on Vache island off Haiti's south coast died in
the storm, but she could not give details.

Skies darkened as wind gusts swayed palm trees in Les Cayes, 100 miles
west of the capital of Port-au-Prince. People put goats and cows into
shelters, and fishermen pulled nets ashore.

Forecasters said up to 20 inches of rain could fall in some mountain
areas of Haiti, raising fears of flash floods in the heavily deforested

"The only thing we can do is just wait and keep our fingers crossed,"
said Frantz Gregoire, 42, owner of the Bay Club, a thatch-roofed seaside
restaurant. He said he would send his workers home if the storm worsened.

Haitian officials went on the radio to warn people in coastal
shantytowns to seek shelter in schools and churches and they evacuated
some low-lying areas in the northwestern city of Gonaives, which was
devastated by floods during Tropical Storm Jeanne in 2004.

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