Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tropical depression in Caribbean heads for Cuba

(AP) Cuba geared up for heavy rains and high winds from a tropical depression that formed in the northern Caribbean on Tuesday and was forecast to strengthen before plowing across the island and racing northward toward Florida.

The storm was centered about 160 miles south of Havana on Tuesday afternoon and it was moving north-northeast at 10 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Its projected path would take it directly over the Cuban capital and surrounding provinces.

A tropical storm warning was in effect from Matanzas eastward to Ciego de Avila in Cuba, as well as the northwestern and central Bahamas and in Florida from Jupiter Inlet to the Florida Keys.

Maximum sustained winds were 35 mph, but the depression was forecast to pick up steam and become a tropical storm within hours.

Cuba's chief meteorologist said the weather system was large but disorganized and the heaviest rains were expected to hit east of the storm's center in an area from Matanzas to Las Tunas in eastern Cuba.

"This is a very weak system," Jose Rubiera said. He forecast that top wind speeds would rise to no more than 50 mph. "Those winds will not cause any damage, except possibly to sensitive crops or weak structures."

He said he was more concerned about the rains, which could be intense in some areas.

While the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season has been unusually active, Tuesday's storm is the first to directly threaten Cuba. The island was devastated by three hurricanes in 2008, but was entirely spared last year.

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