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Hurricane Paloma it will cross for Cuba
The Cayman islands, a British territory with major tourism and banking interests south of Cuba's south-central coast, issued a hurricane watch, shuttered schools Friday and jumped preparations into gear.

"History has taught us that we cannot afford to be complacent in hurricane season," Kurt Tibbetts, honorary leader of government business said on Cayman net TV.

The US-based National Hurricane Center in Miami said that "a hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected within the warning area within the next 24 hours. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion."

At 1200 GMT Paloma's center was located about 135 kilometers (85 miles) south-southwest of Grand Cayman and about 395 kilometers (245 miles) west of Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Packing maximum sustained winds near 130 kilometers per hour (80 miles per hour), Paloma was churning north at 13 kilometers per hour (eight miles per hour) forecast to "pass near the Cayman islands late Friday or early Saturday.

"Strengthening is likely and Paloma is expected to become a Category 2 hurricane later today and possibly reach Category 3 intensity by Saturday," the NHC warned.

Coming toward the end of the Atlantic hurricane season, which stretches from June 1 to November 30, Paloma was expected to produce rainfall of 10 to 20 centimeters (four to eight inches) across the Caymans, with up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) in some places, the NHC said.

The hurricane is forecast to then track northeast and strike Cuba's south-central coast by Sunday, the NHC said.

The storm, which would be the fifth to crash into Cuba this hurricane season, represents a potential "high risk" for central and eastern Cuba when it hits as late Sunday or early Monday, said Jose Rubiera, the head of the Cuban Meteorological Institute (INSMET).

Cuba's Civil Defense said authorities have mobilized in all provinces to study the best ways to "guarantee the protection of the public and economic resources."

The 2008 hurricane season, including devastating Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, has killed hundreds across the Caribbean and Central America and wrought billions of dollars in damage across the region.

Gustav and Ike, which struck Cuba on August 30 and September 9, caused an estimated 9.3 billion dollars in damages, almost double the original estimates, according to official reports.

In the Caribbean's most populous island nation, with more than 11 million people, the storms have damaged some of the tourism infrastructure and destroyed about 80 percent of crops. In the Americas' only communist ruled centrally planned economy, Paloma brings more extremely grim news.


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