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Hurricane Isidore Batters Cuba - 2002-09-20

Hurricane Isidore is pummeling Cuba's westernmost tip with torrential rains and maximum sustained winds exceeding 160-kilometers an hour.

Weather forecasters say, by the time Isidore clears Cuba, the storm could have dumped as much as 70 centimeters of rain on the island's agriculturally-rich western provinces where much tobacco is grown.

Cuban President Fidel Castro told reporters Friday that his country will respond to any problems caused by the storm.

Isidore is a moderate category-two hurricane on a one-to-five scale, moving slowly to the west-northwest. But U.S. National Hurricane Center meteorologist Jack Beven said Isidore could grow more powerful once it enters the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

"We do expect some strengthening to occur once the center emerges out into the open Gulf [of Mexico], and the system could become a major hurricane," he pointed out.

Mr. Beven added that it is virtually impossible to say where the storm might next strike. "For the next two-to-three days, it looks like we are going to have a slow westward motion across the southern Gulf of Mexico," he explained. "Where it goes beyond two-to-three days is very speculative. Among the various computer models we look at, we have models going in just about every direction: we have them going south, west and north. All possibilities are open."

Thursday, Cuban authorities ordered thousands of people to evacuate flood-prone regions in the western half of the island.

Isidore is the second hurricane to strike Cuba in as many years. Last year, Hurricane Michele, a powerful category-four storm, caused an estimated $1.8 billion in damage in central Cuba.

In Miami, many Cuban exiles say they have called relatives still living on the island to check up on them.

Meanwhile, relief organizations are already gearing up to send aid to Cuba.

"We stock up before the [hurricane] season every year because unfortunately we have been responding to disasters every year," said Bruce Netter who is with the south Florida offices of Catholic Charities. "The average person on a regular basis without a disaster does not have enough [emergency supplies]. So, when they are impacted by a horrific event, they have even less."

Isidore is the second hurricane in what has been a relatively quiet 2002 Atlantic hurricane season.