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Lili Upgraded to Hurricane, Heads For Cuba; Could Bring Heavy Rain to Fla.

October 17, 1996

MIAMI (AP) _ Tropical Storm Lili was upgraded to a hurricane today and took aim at Cuba after dumping rains that drowned at least eight people and left thousands homeless in Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Outer bands of rain from Lili began sweeping the Florida Keys late Wednesday, and although no watches had been posted for any part of Florida, forecasters warned residents there to stay wary.

``We have not let the Keys off the hook, yet. They should keep a close eye on this,″ said Frank LaPore, a spokesman at the National Hurricane Center.

The hurricane was on a path to hit Cuba’s southwest coast late tonight or early Friday, forecasters said.

By Saturday, they predicted Lili would be traveling the Florida Straits between Cuba and Florida, headed northeastward toward the Bahamas while building some in strength. Such a track would keep the broad storm’s center south and east of Florida. But South Florida, already soggy from recent rain, would still get strong wind, heavy rain and storm tides from Lili’s passage.

``Nobody’s really sure what it’s going to do,″ said Claudia Wood, who owns a charter service on Key West. ``I’ve been tightening down the boats and shopping for groceries.″

At 8 a.m. EDT, Lili was about 260 miles south-southwest of Havana. It was moving north-northeast at about 5 mph with top winds of 75 mph. A storm must have winds of at least 74 mph to be a hurricane.

Cuba posted a hurricane warning for the Isle of Youth and its western mainland provinces, including Havana. A hurricane watch was in effect for the Cayman Islands, while a tropical storm warning for the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula was discontinued this morning.

On Wednesday, the storm stalled south of Cuba before gathering strength and heading toward the island.

In Central America, hundreds of people were evacuated and thousands were stranded by surging rivers that made bridges and roads impassable.

Costa Rican authorities said a child and two adults were reported dead Wednesday, adding to the toll of five reported drowned in the region on Tuesday.

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