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Lili strengthens, aims for U.S.

Category 2 hurricane expected to make U.S. landfall Thursday

A man fights the wind Tuesday in Pinar del Rio, Cuba.
A man fights the wind Tuesday in Pinar del Rio, Cuba.

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Hurricane Lili
At 11 p.m. ET Tuesday
Latitude: 23.3 degrees north
Longitude: 86.3 degrees west Position: 135 miles north-northeast of Yucatan Pennisula, Mexico; 520 miles southeast of New Orleans, Louisiana
Top sustained winds: 105 mph
Next advisory: 5 a.m. ET

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- A hurricane watch was issued Tuesday along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana as Hurricane Lili moved past Cuba toward the Gulf of Mexico.

At 11 p.m. ET, the powerful Category 2 storm's maximum sustained winds were near 105 mph, and forecasters expected it to strengthen over the next 24 hours.

Category 2 hurricanes have top winds of 96-110 mph and are capable of considerable damage to piers, road signs, homes, trees and low-lying coastal areas

"I don't have any doubt that it will become a major hurricane, and that means a Category 3 or above," National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield told CNN. A Category 3 storm has winds of 111-130 mph.

A hurricane watch was issued from San Louis Pass, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River, in Louisiana. A tropical storm watch was in effect from the mouth of the Mississippi to Pascagoula, Mississippi -- a region that includes New Orleans and Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana.

As of 11 p.m., Lili was centered about 135 miles north-northeast of the northeast tip of Mexico's Yucatan Penninsula, about 520 miles southeast of New Orleans. It was moving toward the northwest at 16 mph.

Lili, the fourth hurricane of the 2002 Atlantic season, could threaten the Louisiana or upper Texas coasts by Thursday, forecasters predicted.

That would put it about 200 miles west of where Tropical Storm Isidore made landfall a week ago in southeastern Louisiana.

Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard Tuesday.

"Our first priority is the safety and security of the people of the state of Mississippi," Musgrove said in a statement. "By issuing the state of emergency now, we can put state resources in place to make sure that the needs of our citizens are met."

NASA canceled the Wednesday's scheduled launch of Atlantis and said the space shuttle would take off no sooner than Thursday.

NASA said it is most concerned with the storm passing near its Houston headquarters, not Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the shuttle is to take off.

Thousands could lose homes

The storm caused heavy damage as it passed over western Cuba, cutting electricity and blocking roads. Residents in some areas could be contacted only by HAM radio.

October 1999: Irene hit south Florida with top winds of 75 mph.

September 1999: Floyd hit Cape Fear, North Carolina, with top winds of 105 mph.

August 1999:
Bret hit Padre Island, Texas, with top winds of 115 mph.
Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale
Category 1:
Winds 74-95 mph (119-153 km/hr)

Category 2:
Winds 96-110 mph (154-177 km/hr)

Category 3:
Winds 111-130 mph (178-209 km/hr)

Category 4:
Winds 131-155 mph (210-249 km/hr)

Category 5:
Winds greater than 155 mph (249 km/hr)

Source: National Hurricane Center

One death was reported. Schools were closed. Train service and flights were canceled.

Authorities expected flooding in the south coastal part of Havana province and in the city of Havana itself. They warned that the biggest danger is the collapse of old and dilapidated buildings that are home to about 4,000 people.

About 200,000 people were reported to have been evacuated, including more than 100,000 from the province of Pinar del Rio. More than 80,000 animals were taken to higher ground.

Cuba discontinued hurricane warnings Tuesday evening and forecasters said the threat of storm surge flooding was decreasing.

Earlier, the hurricane hit the same areas that were drenched last week by Hurricane Isidore, including the Cayman Islands and Cuba's Isle of Youth, where one gust was reported at 108 mph.

Meanwhile, Kyle strengthened back into a tropical storm after being downgraded to a tropical depression earlier Tuesday.

Kyle, with 50 mph sustained winds, was meandering about 270 miles south-southwest of Bermuda. Little motion and no significant change in strength were expected over the next 24 hours, forecasters said.

Bermuda lifted a tropical storm warning.

-- CNN Correspondent Lucia Newman contributed to this report.

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