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Emily picks up steam

Likely to reach hurricane strength before entering Caribbean

Satellite image taken Wednesday at 12:45 a.m. ET shows Emily east of the Windward Islands.


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    Hurricane Dennis

    (CNN) -- With Tropical Storm Emily picking up steam in the Atlantic, hurricane warnings were issued across the Windward Islands, with forecasters saying the storm could rake the islands late Wednesday and enter the Caribbean.

    The latest projection of Emily's path from the National Hurricane Center puts the storm on a trajectory that has it heading toward Mexico's Yucatan peninsula by the end of the weekend. However, such long-range forecasts often change because of the unpredictable nature of hurricane movement.

    With maximum sustained winds near 60 mph, Emily was getting better organized and has the potential to become a hurricane before it reaches the islands, according to the National Hurricane Center. To reach hurricane status, maximum sustained winds would have to reach 74 mph.

    At 11 p.m. EDT, the storm was located about 370 miles east-southeast of Barbados, moving west at about 20 mph.

    Hurricane warnings have been issued for Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Tobago, which means hurricane conditions are expected within 24 hours. A tropical storm warning and hurricane watch were issued for Trinidad and a tropical storm watch for Martinique.

    The Windward Islands are a string of small islands arrayed in a north-south line marking the eastern edge of the Caribbean.

    Once Emily passes over the islands, the hurricane center's five-day forecast track shows the storm moving on a path similar, though further to the south, of the one taken last week by Hurricane Dennis -- northwest across the Caribbean, where it could affect Hispanola, Jamaica and Cuba. On that trajectory, the storm would approach the Yucatan late Sunday, with entry into the Gulf of Mexico still a possibility.

    In the wake of Dennis

    Emily is the latest storm in what has so far been an active 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, with five tropical systems developing in the first six weeks.

    Hurricane season began June 1 and ends November 30.

    All five systems have reached at least tropical storm strength, and Dennis -- which packed 150 mph winds at one point -- was the earliest Category 4 hurricane ever recorded in the Caribbean basin.

    Dennis is blamed for five deaths in Florida and Georgia -- and more in Cuba in Haiti before that.

    Still a tropical depression late Tuesday afternoon, Dennis was "nearly stationary" over southern Illinois, the National Weather Service said.

    Flood and flash-flood warnings were still in effect for portions of Georgia and Florida, while watches were in effect for portions of Illinois and Missouri.

    Forecasters said Dennis is expected to produce dump 6 to 10 inches of rain lower Ohio River Valley, with 12 inches possible in isolated areas over the next three days.

    The storm made landfall with 120 mph winds on the western Florida Panhandle Sunday afternoon between the towns of Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach on Santa Rosa Island.

    Storm surges of up to 10 feet flooded parts of the Panhandle even as far as 175 miles to the east.

    Dennis' wide bands dumped heavy rains across the southeast, causing flooding as far away as the Atlanta, Georgia, area.

    The storm downed power lines across the Southeast, and at one point more than 850,000 customers in the region had no electricity. President Bush declared federal disaster areas in portions of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

    After touring some of the damaged areas Monday in the Panhandle, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush pledged all necessary support to a state still recovering from the four hurricanes that hit last year.

    One estimate from a firm that serves the insurance industry surmises that Dennis is likely to cause between $1 billion and $2.5 billion in insured losses. (Full story)

    Cuba rejects U.S. aid

    Dennis was also blamed for up to 22 deaths in Haiti and at least 16 in Cuba.

    The Cuban government estimated the storm caused $1.4 billion in damage -- equivalent to almost a year's worth of income from Cuba's main industry, tourism.

    But President Fidel Castro, Cuba's communist leader, said he had rejected $50,000 in humanitarian aid offered by the U.S. government.

    "We would never accept it," Castro said. "Even if they offered us a billion dollars, we'd refuse it."

    In a seven-hour television address -- missed by many Cubans due to power outages -- Castro instead called for the United States to lift its economic embargo against Cuba.

    Castro said he would accept help only from friends such as Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.

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