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Hurricane aims at Cayman Islands, Mexico

Heads toward heavy tourist spots

Image shows Emily in the Caribbean at 4:03 p.m. ET on Saturday.


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    Hurricane Emily

    (CNN) -- Rainbands of Hurricane Emily -- an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 storm with winds nearing 155 mph -- spread over Jamaica and the Cayman Islands Saturday evening as the storm's eye passed southwest of Jamaica and headed toward Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

    The latest long-range forecast from the National Hurricane Center shows that the storm -- bordering on Category 5 status -- could cross the Yucatan Monday and approach mainland Mexico near the Texas border by late Tuesday.

    Such projections often change, however, because of the unpredictable nature of hurricane movement.

    Forecasters said Emily would move away from Jamaica and be near Grand Cayman early Sunday.

    The Mexican government late Saturday issued a hurricane warning for the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, including Cozumel and the Islas Mujeres.

    It also extended a hurricane watch to include a larger swath of the peninsula's northern and western coasts. A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions -- including sustained winds in excess of 73 mph -- are possible within the next 36 hours.

    A hurricane warning remains in effect for Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Additionally, a tropical storm warning was issued for the coast of Belize, and forecasters said a tropical storm warning may be required for portions of western Cuba on Sunday. A tropical storm warnings means tropical storm conditions are expected in the area within 24 hours.

    In Cancun, Mexican authorities asked tourists to leave the coastal town ahead of the storm. Mexican officials estimate there are currently 50,000 tourists in Cancun and 130,000 total on the coast south of the city, along a beach area known as the Mayan Riviera. (Full story)

    Emily began to sweep south of Jamaica late Saturday morning, causing rain bands to spread over that Caribbean island. Overnight Saturday, the storm's outer bands will sweep over the Cayman Islands, which were devastated by Hurricane Ivan last year. The storm, which was a Category 5 at the time, was blamed for more than 100 deaths and extensive damage in the Caymans.

    As of 11 p.m. ET, the storm was about 140 miles (230 km) south-southeast of Grand Cayman and about 480 miles (770 km) east-southeast of Cozumel. It was moving west-northwest at near 18 mph.

    Emily dealt the second blow in a week to Jamaica after last week's Hurricane Dennis. The storm brought torrential rains and high winds to the island, causing flooding and prompting evacuations in some areas, journalist Fitzroy Prendergast told CNN.

    Landslides were also reported on Jamaica's eastern end -- the area damaged earlier by Dennis -- and some communities there were cut off from the rest of the island, Prendergast said. The main route to Ocho Rios, the island's main tourist destination, was closed, as was the road to one of the island's airports, he said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

    Still, "I would say the worst is over," Prendergast said. "I think we have survived once again."

    A deluge of up to 10 inches of rain was possible for the Cayman Islands, with an additional 2 to 4 inches over western Jamaica and southeastern Cuba, forecasters said. Up to 8 inches was possible over the Yucatan Peninsula with 12 inches possible in some areas.

    Forecasters said the storm's strength could continue to fluctuate, as it did throughout the day Friday. A Category 4 hurricane is capable of causing extensive structural damage and coastal flooding with storm surges of up to 18 feet over normal tide.

    For Emily to reach Category 5 status, its maximum sustained winds would have to exceed 155 mph. The latest bulletin from the National Hurricane Center said that within the next 24 hours, Emily could "could become a category five hurricane at times." Some fluctuations in strength are expected, forecasters said. A Category 5 hurricane is capable of producing catastrophic damage and flooding.

    The National Hurricane Center said Emily's hurricane force winds extended outward up to 60 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extended outward up to 150 miles.

    The latest five-day projection of Emily's path from the hurricane center shows the storm making a brief landfall on the tip of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula late Sunday or early Monday, then going back out over the Gulf of Mexico.

    The storm's current path has it on a trajectory to hit the Gulf Coast just south of the U.S.-Mexico border late Tuesday . However, the potential landfall path stretches hundreds of miles from Matagorda Bay in Texas south to near Veracruz, Mexico.

    Emily has been blamed for one death in Grenada, which took a near-direct hit from the storm early Thursday.

    The hurricane 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.

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

    The storm caused extensive damage in Cuba and the northern U.S. Gulf Coast, killing more than three dozen people.

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