Havana (AFP) Oct 13, 2010
Cuba put residents on alert Wednesday as a weakened Hurricane Paula neared the western tip of the island after drenching Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, officials said.
The storm, which was downgraded to category one earlier in the day, was on track to strike Cuba en route to the Florida Keys, forecasters said.
Cuba's civil defense called on coastal residents in Pinar del Rio province, in western Cuba, to take precautions and said the storm may also cause damage to the capital city Havana, the provinces of La Habana and the Isle of Youth.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Paula, downgraded during the day from category two strength on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, was packing maximum sustained winds of 85 miles (140 kilometers) an hour.
It was moving north at around three miles (six kilometers) an hour, the NHC said in its 0000 GMT Thursday advisory.
"On this track, Paula will be passing very near or over western Cuba (late Wednesday) or early Thursday," the NHC said. "Gradual weakening is expected during the next day or two," it added.
The NHC described Paula as a "small hurricane," with hurricane wind force extending up to 10 miles (20 kilometers) from the center, and tropical storm force winds up to 60 miles (95 kilometers).
Paula was expected to drop between three and six inches (seven and 15 centimeters) of rain to Cuba, with isolated maximum amounts of 10 inches (25 centimeters), it added.
"In areas of mountainous terrain, these rainfall amounts could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides," the NHC warned.
The center also said a tropical storm watch was in effect for parts of the Florida Keys.
Earlier, Mexico lifted its highest red-level alert after the storm swept within miles (kilometers) of resort areas where some 27,000 tourists were staying, causing no serious damage.
"The hurricane came very close but didn't cause major damage to the coastlines," said Felix Gonzalez, governor of southeastern Quintana Roo state.
Paula is set to be the first hurricane of the Atlantic season to make landfall in Cuba, which was slammed in 2008 by a trio of major hurricanes, causing some 10 billion dollars in damage.
Tropical Storm Nicole struck the island two weeks ago, cutting off villages and damaging farmland, but also raising depleted water reserves.
Paula is the ninth hurricane of the June-through-November Atlantic season.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had predicted an especially stormy 2010, with 14 to 23 named storms for this season, including eight to 14 hurricanes.
On average, there are 11 named storms, six of which become hurricanes.
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Hurricane Paula heads for Mexican tourist coast
Chetumal, Mexico (AFP) Oct 12, 2010
Hurricane Paula intensified Tuesday as it headed for Mexico's resort-dotted Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba after drenching parts of Central America during a particularly active storm season. Mexican authorities upgraded their alert to the highest red level in the north of Quintana Roo state late Tuesday, including Cancun, but said evacuations of some 27,000 tourists in the region were not necess ... read more
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