GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (AP) Rainstorms soaked the Cayman Islands on Friday as late-season Hurricane Paloma bore down on the chain of tiny Caribbean islands, triggering a run on stores and plans to shut the main airport.
The Category 1 hurricane was expected to pass over or near Grand Cayman late Friday or early Saturday then gain strength and plow into Cuba, still recovering from two previous hurricanes this season.
Cuba’s Communist Party daily Granma, recalling past late-season hurricanes such as a 1932 storm that killed about 3,000 people, said Paloma poses “a potential danger for the island.” Before it reaches Cuba on Sunday it could be a Category 3 storm with winds of at least 111 mph (179 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Forecasters expected Paloma to weaken into a tropical storm after crossing Cuba’s midsection and steer away from the United States through the Bahamas and into the Atlantic.
The Cayman Islands government urged residents to stay off the streets and began preparing for evacuations in low-lying southern coastal regions. The airport was to close Friday, according to Tourism Minister Charles Clifford, who said extra flights off the island were added late Thursday.
“I hope I’m right, but I don’t think this will be a major event,” Clifford said. Paloma had winds near 85 mph (140 kph) and forecasters said it was likely to strengthen before reaching this affluent British territory.
It could be a different story for Cuba, still reeling from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in August and September.
At 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT), Paloma was about 75 miles (120 kilometers) south-southwest of Grand Cayman, moving to the north at 7 mph (11 kph) and expected to turn to the northeast late Friday.
Cayman Islands Gov. Stuart Jack said Friday that a British Royal Navy ship was on the way and would be available to provide humanitarian assistance if needed.