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Dennis lashes Cuba, kills 10

Gulf Coast braces for hurricane

A satellite image of Dennis envelops Cuba, with winds in excess of 140 mph, at 12.15 p.m. ET Friday.


As of 4 a.m. ET Saturday
Position of center:
90 miles (45 km) southwest of Key West
Latitude: 23.6 north
82.7 west
Top sustained winds:
110 mph (175 km/h)
Source: National Hurricane Center




HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- Hurricane Dennis lashed Cuba with powerful winds, crashing waves and torrential rain Friday, killing at least 10 people as the storm churned its way across the length of the Caribbean nation.

The storm weakened as it made its way across the island Friday night, dropping to Category 2, with 110 mph winds, before bearing down on Havana.

However, forecasters expected Dennis to pick up steam as it heads out over open water toward the United States.

Meanwhile, the normally bustling streets of Key West, Florida, where Dennis is expected to strike at least a glancing blow by Saturday morning, were largely empty, as bands of wind and rain reached out well ahead of the storm's center with a taste of the menace to come.

An evacuation order had been issued for the lower Florida Keys Thursday, and residents were warned that the window for them to leave was rapidly closing. Businesses were shut down at 5 p.m. Friday, and the airport was closed.

Up at the top of the Gulf of Mexico, residents of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle braced for a projected hit from the powerful storm Sunday afternoon, less than a year after Hurricane Ivan brought destruction to the region along the same path. Much of that damage has yet to be repaired.

The governors of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana declared states of emergency, and evacuations began in low-lying areas and barrier islands, including a number of popular beach resorts.

The three-day forecast projection for Dennis has the storm striking Sunday afternoon near Pensacola, Florida at either Category 3 or 4, depending on how much the storm strengthens over the warm waters of the Gulf.

However, such predictions often change because of the unpredictable nature of a hurricane's movement, and coastal residents from the Louisiana-Mississippi state line to the mouth of Florida's Steinhatchee River, east of Tallahassee, were put under a hurricane watch and warned to stay alert for a possible strike.

A hurricane warning was in effect for most of Cuba and the lower Keys, south of the Seven Mile Bridge, with the upper Keys under a hurricane watch.

A tropical storm warning was posted for the southwest and southeast Florida coasts, stretching from Anclote Key, north of Clearwater, southward and around the bottom of the peninsula and up to Golden Beach in Miami-Dade County.

A portion of the Gulf Coast from Anclote Key north to the Steinhatchee River was also under a tropical storm watch, as was the southeastern Louisiana coast from the Mississippi state line to Grand Isle. The watch area included metropolitan New Orleans and Lake Pontchatrian.

At 3 a.m. ET, the eye of the storm was located about 90 miles southwest of Key West, forecasters said. It was moving toward the northwest at about 14 mph, and that general motion was expected to continue for the next 24 hours, moving Dennis away from Cuba and putting its eye over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, forecasters said.

Already, as the storm moved across the island from southeast to northwest, 10 people were killed, Cuban President Fidel Castro told his countrymen in a television address. Some 600,000 people in coastal areas had evacuated to shelters and high ground.

Most Cubans do not have access to materials such as plywood and tape to secure their homes against hurricane damage, and many of their homes are of weak construction. Many areas in the eastern part of Cuba were cut off Friday night, with no power or communication.

The National Hurricane Center reported that a wind gust of 149 mph was recorded in Cienfuegos, a city on Cuba's south-central coast near where the storm came crashing ashore.

The brunt of Dennis missed the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where a detention facility houses suspected al Qaeda terrorists and sympathizers captured in Afghanistan.

As Dennis roared across Cuba, the storm lost some of its steam, dropping 40 mph from its wind speed and slipping from a Category 4 storm down to Category 2.

However, Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, told CNN that Dennis is likely to pick up steam after it crosses Cuba, goes back out over water and moves toward the low-lying Florida Keys, where a storm surge of 3 to 6 feet and 4 to 8 inches of rain were forecast.

Isolated tornadoes were also expected across central and southern Florida and the Florida Keys on Saturday, forecasters said. A storm surge of 4 to 7 feet was forecast along the state's southwestern coast.

More than 1,100 workers were evacuated from offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico in the path of the storm. The U.S. Navy and Air Force also moved ships, aircraft and personnel out of bases in the Florida Panhandle.

Evacuation orders

  • Emergency management officials in Alabama ordered the popular seaside resorts of Orange Beach, Ono Island, Gulf Shores and Pleasure Island evacuated starting at 7 a.m. ET Saturday. Mobile's port will also close Saturday morning.
  • In Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, officials ordered evacuations of coastal and low-lying areas beginning 7 p.m. ET Friday, including the resorts of Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key. Ten shelters have been opened for evacuees.
  • In Okaloosa County, which includes Fort Walton Beach and Destin, barrier islands, coastal and low-lying areas will be under a mandatory evacuation order beginning Saturday at 7 a.m. ET. Three shelters have been opened.
  • In Santa Rosa County, a mandatory evacuation order was issued for Navarre Beach, mobile homes, campgrounds and low-lying areas. The evacuation was voluntary in Gulf Breeze, but people were "strongly encouraged" to leave before the storm forces closure of bridges to the mainland.
  • In Walton County, residents living south of Florida Highway 20 were put under a mandatory evacuation order Friday at 5 p.m. ET, and a shelter was opened in Freeport. The evacuation zone includes the resort areas of Seaside and Santa Rosa Beach.
  • In Jackson County, Mississippi, which includes Pascagoula, low-lying areas, mobile homes, campgrounds and beaches will be evacuated starting Saturday at 11 a.m. ET.
  • At least two Louisiana parishes -- Jefferson and Plaquemines -- announced voluntary evacuations Friday, but there has so far been no call to evacuate New Orleans.
  • CNN Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman and Producers Patrick Oppmann, Mike Mount and Eric Fiegel contributed to this report.

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