Dennis Brings Wind, Flooding to Cuba as Storm Heads to Florida
July 8 (Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Dennis struck Cuba with 150 mph winds as it moved toward the Florida Keys and the Gulf of Mexico, forcing evacuations in communities along the coast.
The storm's center was about 130 miles (209 kilometers) west of Cuba and 250 miles south-southeast of Key West as of 11 a.m. New York time, the National Hurricane Center said. Dennis is moving northwest at 15 mph (24 kph), and will reach the south- central coast of Cuba later today. It will then head into the Gulf, hitting the Florida Panhandle and Alabama by the weekend.
Dennis, which is following Tropical Storm Cindy into the Gulf, is a so-called Category 4 major storm, meaning it can tear off roofs, destroy mobile homes and cause flooding high enough to require evacuations 6 miles from shore. If it doesn't weaken, it will be the most powerful hurricane to hit Florida in July, according to the National Hurricane Center.
``Over 15 years, I've never seen these systems having a beeline for us like they have been,'' said Scott Adcock, a spokesman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. ``It's highly unusual this early in the hurricane season to see these storms like this in the Gulf, especially one this strong this early.''
The southeastern U.S., particularly Florida, is still recovering and rebuilding after a devastating hurricane season last year. A record four hurricanes -- Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne -- struck Florida in 2004 and caused almost $23 billion in property damage.
Extends for 50 Miles
A hurricane warning was in effect for most of Cuba and for the lower Florida Keys from the Seven Mile Bridge west to the Dry Tortugas. Hurricane-force winds extended 50 miles from the center and tropical-storm force winds reached as far as 160 miles out, the hurricane center said at 11 a.m.
A hurricane warning means that winds of more than 73 mph are expected within 24 hours.
A tropical storm warning is in place in Florida along the west coast south of Bonita Beach and along the east coast south of Golden Beach.
Parts of the Florida Keys, including tourist destination Key West, have been ordered to evacuate. Florida International University in Miami has opened a shelter to handle some of the 35,000 to 40,000 residents affected, Monroe County spokeswoman Becky Herrin said.
Oil companies have evacuated rigs and production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico east of a line from Cameron, Louisiana, 80 miles east of the Texas border. Transocean Inc., the world's largest offshore oil and natural-gas driller, Royal Dutch/Shell Group, Exxon Mobil Corp., Apache Corp. announced evacuations.
`Imminent Danger' for Cuba
Dennis will likely hit Cuba later today around the southern provinces of Cienfuegos and Matanzas, according to the Cuban forecast. The center of the storm is then forecast to move toward the northwest, crossing the coast of Havana or Matanzas province tonight, before returning to sea, the country's Meteorological Institute said.
``Hurricane Dennis continues to be a big and imminent danger'' for most of Cuba, the institute said in an advisory on its Web site.
Dennis would be only the fourth July hurricane to hit Cuba in 205 years, the official Granma newspaper said today on its Web site. About 200,000 people were evacuated from their homes, all schools were closed for today and flights were suspended in most of the country, Granma said.
Winds from the storm toppled a television tower in a southeastern province also called Granma, the newspaper said, and roads from the province toward the city of Santiago de Cuba were cut off.
At least one man was killed by a falling tree in Les Cayes, southwest Haiti, when the storm passed off the coast, Dieuford Delorge, spokesman for the country's civil protection department, said in a phone interview from the capital Port-au-Prince.
He said he couldn't confirm an Associated Press report that five people died. Flooding affected areas across the country, and some roofs were blown off homes Delorge said, adding that communication with some parts of Haiti is ``difficult.''
Dennis is the fourth-named storm of the Atlantic Ocean hurricane season, its earliest start ever. Dennis became a Category 1 hurricane Wednesday after its winds increased to about 85 mph. The season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.