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Category 2 Paula inches closer to Yucatan

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Paula's top sustained winds are now at 100 mph
  • The storm may affect Cuba by late Wednesday
  • Paula is likely to dump 3 to 10 inches of rain in parts of Mexico and Cuba

Miami, Florida (CNN) -- Small but powerful Hurricane Paula was closing in on the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba Tuesday night with sustained 100 mph winds, forecasters said.

As of 8 p.m. ET, Paula was centered about 85 miles (135 kilometers) southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, and 160 miles (260 kilometers) south-southwest of the western tip of Cuba, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm was moving north at nearly 9 mph (15 kph).

Paula tipped the scales into hurricane strength earlier in the day and intensified quickly to a Category 2 storm

Hurricane warnings were in effect for the coast of Mexico from Punta Gruesa north to Cabo Catoche, including Cozumel, and for the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio.

Paula's core is expected to reach the Yucatan channel on Wednesday -- although tropical storm strength winds will move ashore late Tuesday -- and be over western Cuba Wednesday night or early Thursday, the Hurricane Center said.

Paula is expected to strengthen slightly Tuesday night and Wednesday, but to weaken gradually thereafter.

The Hurricane Center described Paula as "small," given that its hurricane-force winds extend outward only up to 15 miles (30 kilometers) from the center and tropical strength-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles (95 kilometers).

Paula is predicted to drop 3 to 6 inches of rain over eastern portions of the Yucatan Peninsula and portions of western and central Cuba, with maximum amounts of 10 inches in isolated areas. That could cause flash floods and mudslides, the center said.