Hurricane Lili belts Caymans, 4 dead in Jamaica
KINGSTON, Jamaica (Reuters) - Lili grew to hurricane strength on Monday as it pounded the Cayman Islands and threatened Cuba after inundating Jamaica, where flood waters and mudslides killed four people.
Lili's 75-mph sustained winds crossed the hurricane threshold as the persistent storm chugged along Cuba's south coast on a track expected to take it over the western tip of Cuba on Tuesday and then toward the U.S. Gulf coast, where forecasters said it could be by the week's end.
In Jamaica, police said three people were killed in Trinity Ville, a town east of Kingston, including a woman and child swept away by flood waters as they tried to cross the main street. A taxi driver drowned when his car was stuck in a mudslide in St. Thomas.
Heavy rain triggered flooding and mudslides in all 14 of the island's parishes. At least 700 people took refuge in shelters from their damaged homes, disaster officials said.
The government suspended classes in public schools, the island's three universities and all colleges.
Agriculture officials said several sugar cane fields were washed out by the storm, threatening production targets. One of the hardest hit areas was Frome in Westmoreland, which produces nearly 30 percent of Jamaica's export quota.
The nation's weather service said Montego Bay got more than 7 inches of rain overnight and winds were clocked at about 70 mph.
Lili was on top of the Cayman Islands on Monday morning. There were no immediate reports of damage from the British colony, a leading offshore financial center made up of three small islands and about 35,000 people just south of Cuba.
"I wish it would go away," Wosila Rochester, news editor at Cayman Islands Government Information Services, said as the storm's center pounded tiny Cayman Brac and heavy rains hit the largest island, Grand Cayman.
Seventeen government shelters were open for residents seeking refugee from near-hurricane force winds and pounding surf up to 10 feet above normal.
At 11 a.m. EDT, Lili's center was near the islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, about 225 miles southeast of Cuba's Isle of Youth, at latitude 19.8 north and longitude 80 west, the U.S. National Hurricane Center ( news - web sites) said.
The storm was moving west-northwest at about 10 mph on a path that would take it near Cuba's Isle of Youth late Monday or early Tuesday. Hurricane Isidore hit the same area just 11 days ago.
Lili was expected to emerge in the Gulf of Mexico en route to a point off the U.S. coast near the Texas-Louisiana border.
Cuba on Sunday began to evacuate people from southern coastal villages. In the town of Bayamo, in Granma province, 28,000 people were evacuated.
In western Cuba, farmers hurried the collection of ripening bananas in preparation for a heavy downpour. Isidore destroyed grapefruit crops in the Isle of Youth and caused extensive flooding in western Pinar del Rio province.
Cuba is still recovering from last year's Hurricane Michelle, which plowed through its center, leaving 200,000 people homeless and causing $1.8 billion in damages.
The Cayman Islands were under a hurricane warning, alerting residents to storm conditions within 24 hours. All of Jamaica and Cuba were under a tropical storm warning, the hurricane center said.
Cuba issued a hurricane warning for the Havana area and the provinces of Matanzas, Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth.
Tropical Storm Kyle, meanwhile, appeared to pose a growing threat to Bermuda. After days drifting aimlessly in the Atlantic Ocean, Kyle was becoming better organized and could grow in the next day or so, forecasters said.
At 11 a.m. EDT, Kyle's center was about 215 miles south of Bermuda at latitude 29.8 north and longitude 64.8 west. It was stationary and had sustained winds of about 45 mph.