Hurricane Gustav plows through Cayman Islands


George Town, Cayman Islands : Gustav swelled to a Category 2 hurricane early Saturday with winds near 100 mph (161 kph) after plowing through the Cayman Islands toward Cuba, gathering strength on a journey that could take it to the U.S. Gulf Coast as a fearsome Category 3 storm three years after Hurricane Katrina, reported

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Gustav, which killed 71 people in the Caribbean, hit the Caymans Friday with fierce winds that tore down trees and power lines. It was expected to cross Cuba’s cigar country Saturday and head into the Gulf of Mexico by Sunday.

Gustav first struck Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, the smaller easternmost Sister Islands in the chain. Storm surge and heavy rains flooded the streets.

More than 1,100 people were in government shelters in the three islands as high waves and heavy winds battered the chain, the National Emergency Operations Center said in a statement. No injuries were reported.

We’re just trying to wait it out, said Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who represents the islands in the Cayman legislature, by cell phone from the kitchen of her farm on
Cayman Brac.

She said about 40 people were riding out the storm in her home, which at 65 feet (20 meters) elevation is safe from flooding but still vulnerable to winds that ripped out hundreds of fruit trees on the farm.

The wind is just tremendous, O’Connor-Connolly said at the height of the storm.

They say it’s 80 mph (129 kph) but it certainly seems to be over 100 mph, and I’ve been through lots of storms.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm grew from a Category 1 hurricane early Saturday when the latest data from an Air Force Reconnaissance plane showed maximum winds of 100 mph. It said that at 2 a.m. EDT Saturday, Gustav was centered about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Grand Cayman Island and moving northwest near 12 mph (19 kph).

Caymans authorities did not impose a curfew but urged people to remain indoors to avoid interfering with emergency workers.

Hotels asked guests to leave and, after the airport closed, prepared to shelter those who remained. Chris Smith, of Frederick, Maryland, said his hotel handed out
wrist bands marked with guests’ names and room numbers so that if something happens they can quickly identify us.

That was a little bit sobering, he said, standing outside the hotel with his luggage.

The storm killed four people in a daylong march across the length of Jamaica, where it ripped off roofs and downed power lines. About 4,000 people were displaced from their homes, with about half relocated to shelters. Prime Minister Bruce Golding said the government sent helicopters Friday to rescue 31 people trapped by floods.

At least 59 people died in Haiti and eight in the Dominican Republic.

The hurricane center said Gustav could grow to a Category 3 storm, with winds above 111 mph (179 kph), by the time it hits the U.S. Gulf coast next week. Gustav could strike anywhere from the Florida Panhandle to Texas, but forecasters said there is a better-than-even chance that New Orleans will get slammed by at least tropical-storm-force winds.