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Paloma strengthens, heads toward Cayman Islands, Cuba

Late-season Hurricane Paloma strengthened into a Category 3 storm as it lashed the Cayman Islands with wind and rain Friday, knocking down trees and signs.

Lights flickered across Grand Cayman, where tourists gathered on balconies and beaches to watch the storm whip up 10-foot (3-meter) waves.

The Cayman Islands government asked all hotels to remove guests from the ground and first floors. Nearly 40 people were already staying in the islands’ seven shelters.

Paloma’s top winds Friday night were near 115 mph (185 kph), and it was centered about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Grand Cayman, heading north at 6 mph (9 kph).


The hurricane’s center was expected to pass near Grand Cayman during the night or early Saturday, then gain strength and punch a Cuba already suffering from billions of dollars in damage from two previous hurricanes this season.

Cuban official newspaper Granma said Paloma poses "a potential danger for the island." The storm could strengthen as it heads toward Cuba’s midsection, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Havana’s communist government activated the early stages of its highly organized civil defense system. In central and eastern Cuba, people were advised to stay tuned to state media for news of Paloma’s progress and be ready to evacuate.

Paloma was aiming toward the central-eastern city of Camagüey, which was particularly hard-hit by Hurricane Ike in early September.

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