Hurricane Lili lashes Cuba
HAVANA, Oct 1 (AFP) - Hurricane Lili slammed into southwestern Cuba Tuesday, after the government rushed to evacuate more than half a million people from low-lying areas.
The Cuban Meteorological Service reported that the hurricane made landfall on Cabo Frances, in western Cuba, at 1540 GMT packing winds of 150 kilometers (93 miles) an hour.
Lili continued its march in a west-northwest direction across western Cuba towards New Orleans and the US Gulf coast, moving at 20 kilometers (12 miles) per hour, weather officials here said.
The hurricane is expected to cross a 50 kilometer (31 mile) wide swath of land that Civil Defense officials have cleared of people and remain two hours over mainland Cuba, officials said.
In Havana, home to 2.2 million Cubans and located 200 kilometers (125 miles) east of Cabo Frances, intermittent heavy showers and winds of up to 50 kilometers (31 miles) are expected.
Earlier Lili ripped across the Isle of Youth -- an island in the Cuban archipelago southwest of the mainland -- with winds of up to 182 kilometers (113 miles) an hour, according to chief meteorologist Jose Rubiera.
Some 6,000 people were evacuated from the Isle of Youth, which has a population of around 80,000, local media reported.
The island has been isolated with no phone service since late Monday, but amateur ham radio operators offer reports to Cuban broadcast media.
"This is worse than (hurricanes) Isidore and Michelle", one ham operator told a Cuban radio station.
Civil Defense officials said the sheets of rain and driving winds across the Isle had been "devastating," damaging crops and buildings but with no known casualties.
Lieutenant Colonel Astul Castellanos, a top Civil Defense official in western Cuba, warned residents to "remain very aware of the rain level" given that the ground is already saturated after Hurricane Isidore swept through just 10 days ago.
The hurricane is at the lowest level of the of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, but may soon be upgraded, the meteorological service reported.
Hurricane Isidore ripped through the Caribbean just ten days ago, flooding coastal towns and damaging citrus crops here.
The Mexican government Tuesday ordered all ports in the southern Mexican state of Yucatan to close in an attempt to minimize hurricane damage.
Twenty percent of Yucatan's 3,500 fishing vessels were destroyed by the previous hurricane, and scores more were damaged, officials said.
The Atlantic hurricane season stretches from June through November.
In November 2001, Hurricane Michelle battered Cuba, killing five people and causing officially estimated losses of 1.8 billion dollars. Officials described it as the worst hurricane to hit Cuba in half a century.
cd/ch/mdl AFP 011644 GMT 10 02
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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 10/01/2002 17:57:10
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