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Hurricane Lili Heads For Cuba; Brings Rain to Soggy Florida

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 Miami this morning, and although no storm watches had been posted for Florida, forecasters warned residents 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 cross Cuba early Friday, forecasters said. By Saturday, they predicted, Lili would be traveling the Florida Straits between Cuba and Florida, possibly strengthening as it headed northeastward toward the Bahamas.

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. Flood watches were posted in eight counties.

``We’re just starting to take measurements just in case. We’ve already bought some plywood,″ Robin Beeler, front desk clerk at the 61-unit Banana Bay Resort about 40 miles from Key West, said today. ``Everything will be ready to go, which is probably what ’most everybody is doing in town, I’d imagine.″

At 2 p.m. EDT, Lili was about 185 miles southwest of Havana, or about 415 miles southwest of Miami. It was moving northeast at about 9 mph _ almost double its overnight forward speed _ and was expected to turn eastward after crossing Cuba. It had top winds of 75 mph, just above mimimum hurricane strength.

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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