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Storm Lili Prompts Cubans to Flee

September 29, 2002

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KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) _ Tropical Storm Lili drenched parts of Jamaica with heavy rains and brushed against southeastern Cuba on Sunday, prompting thousands of Cubans to evacuate from homes in low-lying coastal areas.

Lili appeared to be gathering strength and could become a hurricane before hitting western Cuba on Tuesday, said Martin Nelson, lead forecaster at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

People left low-lying areas and sought refuge on higher ground in the eastern Cuban provinces of Las Tunas and Camaguey provinces, Cuban television and radio reported.

``The area’s large, there’s a lot of convection, and it’s been moving over parts of Cuba already,″ Nelson said.

Rains drenched parts of northern Jamaica, prompting warnings of possible flash floods and mudslides. At least seven people spent the night in a shelter after their homes were flooded in the central parish of Clarendon. No injuries were reported.

Gusty winds and flooding damaged at least 18 homes in Jamaica on Saturday, and pounding surf flooded six homes on Haiti’s southwest tip. Lili was forecast to near the Cayman Islands Sunday night while churning along Cuba’s south coast.

At 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) Sunday, Lili was about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east-northeast of Montego Bay, Jamaica, with winds of 50 mph (80 kph). A tropical storm becomes hurricane when its winds reach 74 mph (119 kph).

In the eastern Cuban provinces of Santiago, Granma and Las Tunas, all high school students were sent home from rural boarding schools where they combine studies with some agricultural work, the Civil Defense said. About 7,000 cattle also were moved to safe areas.

A storm alert was lifted on Sunday at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, where rows of seaside cells hold 598 detainees suspected of links to the fallen Afghan Taliban regime and al-Qaida terrorist network.

The detainees remained in their cells as the storm passed, and by Sunday morning rains let up as normal boat and air traffic resumed, said Chief Petty Officer Gabriel Puello, a spokesman at the U.S. Southern Command in Miami.

Last November, Hurricane Michelle left five dead and thousands of homes destroyed in Cuba. Earlier this month, Hurricane Isidore damaged tobacco crops in western Cuba.

Forecasters said Lili’s winds extended outward up to 70 miles (113 kilometers), and gusts were reported in northern Jamaica. Lili was drifting west at 7 mph (11 kph) and was forecast to turn west-northwest Sunday night or Monday.

Jamaica was under a tropical storm warning. The eastern Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Las Tunas, Granma, Santiago, Guantanamo and Holguin also were under a storm warning. A watch was issued for the central provinces of Mantanzas, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Sancti Spiritus and Ciego de Avila.

The Cayman Islands issued a tropical storm warning for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. A storm watch was posted for the wealthy British territory’s main island, Grand Cayman.

Lili left four dead in St. Vincent on Tuesday when a mudslide slammed into a home, crushing a mother and three children. It also damaged some 400 homes in Barbados and destroyed about half of St. Lucia’s banana crop _ the island’s main export.

Out in the open Atlantic, Tropical Storm Kyle had winds of about 45 mph (72 kph). Kyle became the third hurricane of the Atlantic season on Thursday, but remained about 320 miles (520 kilometers) south of Bermuda and threatened only ships.

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