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Hurricane batters Cuba

BY DISASTER NEWS NETWORK | MIAMI, Fla. | September 20, 2002

"We're keeping a keen eye on this one."

—Lesli Remaly

Hurricane Isidore hit Cuba's Isle of Youth Friday morning with strong winds and heavy rain, and was expected to drench the main island and western half with as much as 30 inches of rain through the weekend.

The Category 2 hurricane -- sporting 105 mph winds -- forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate in Cuba. It was expected to become a major hurricane in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico.

Forecasters, who were still unsure of Isidore's ultimate track, said anything in the Gulf of Mexico is a potential target through the next week.

"Everyone from Mexico to Florida should monitor the situation carefully over the next 3 to 5 days," said Tom Hazelwood of the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

By mid-day Friday, Isidore was churning west toward Mexico. The government of Mexico issued a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch from Progresso to Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula, including the island of Cozumel.

Since Isidore was threatening Mexico, forecasters at the National Weather Service said any threat to the Gulf Coast would be delayed up to 72 hours.

"Isidore will be far enough north to be picked up and begin a northward motion in the three to five day time frame," said forecasters at the National Weather Service. "But it is still too close to call."

A flood-weary South -- already hit by Tropical Depression Hanna last week -- warily watched the storm's path.

"It could devastate many parts of Texas," said Capt. Dan Ford, president of the Texas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and commander of The Salvation Army of Beaumont. "Right now, parts of Texas are dealing with flooding. It could really be something that could be a back breaker that could really devastate communities, especially if it's a Category 4 making landfall in a populated area."

In Texas, state emergency management officials planned how to respond with VOAD members Friday morning.

"At this point, everybody is going to be put on standby," Ford said. "There's nothing anybody can do but try to bring supplies to the coast and make them ready and available and on alert for when the hurricane does make landfall."

A tropical storm watch was posted for the lower Florida Keys Friday, but was discontinued around 11 a.m., when the hurricane headed on a more westerly path than its previous north-bound track. The Florida Division of Emergency Management continued to monitor Isidore while being partially activated Friday afternoon.

"If this thing looks like it's making landfall, we may decide to step up to the next level of activation," said Mike Stone, public information officer for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "We're planning ahead. The storm will be in the Gulf of Mexico. It has to hit somebody's land somewhere, so we have to be prepared to go ... it may be next week some time before it makes up its mind where it's going."

If Isidore heads west and doesn't really hit Florida, Stone said the state may be called upon to provide assistance to its neighbors.

"And we stand by to do that," he said.

Disaster responders in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi were especially concerned that the system would hit already-flooded areas.

"We have definite concerns," said Lesli Remaly, a Church World Service disaster response and recovery liaison. "We're keeping a keen eye on this one."

In Louisiana, the Caddo/Bossier Parish Emergency Preparedness Office was coordinating with the American Red Cross to provide shelters for possible evacuees.

"We're on the extreme north side of Louisiana, so we are a shelter area in the event Isidore did take a turn and the projected path pulled toward the Louisiana gulf coast," said Mike Penaluna, assistant director for the office. "We're getting rain today -- although it's not from the hurricane -- and the projection right now doesn't show it hitting Louisiana."

Even states north of Isidore remained on alert.

"We're in the process of just monitoring it because the computer models are suggesting it's not in our path," said Quentin Banks, Maryland Emergency Management Agency public information officer. "It might be along the Gulf Coast ... which means its maximum impact in our area would be rain."

Isidore is the second hurricane of the Atlantic season.

"There's a lot of things that are still unknowns, but we do know it's going to be quite a storm," Ford said.

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Related Links:

National Weather Service

Maryland Emergency Management Agency

Florida Emergency Management

Salvation Army, Texas Division

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