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Hurricane Isidore Strengthens - 2002-09-21

After pummeling Cuba's western provinces for more than 24 hours, Hurricane Isidore is hugging the northeast coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The storm has intensified and now packs maximum sustained winds of 185 kilometers an hour.

Isidore's center moved off of Cuba's westernmost tip early Saturday, but the hurricane's outer bands continue to dump rain over parts of the island, which was expecting as much as 70 centimeters of precipitation in some regions.

Isidore damaged houses and other structures, uprooted trees and downed power lines in several Cuban provinces and the Isle of Youth. Widespread flooding has been reported, with residents wading in water up to their waists. It may be several days before the full extent of the damage is known, including to the country's tobacco crop.

Isidore has been upgraded to a category 3 hurricane on a 1-5 scale. As such, it is now considered a "major" hurricane, capable of causing significant damage. Hurricane-force winds extend 45 kilometers from the storm's center. Isidore is moving westward at about 11 kilometers an hour. A hurricane warning is in effect for the eastern and northern coasts of the Yucatan peninsula.

Weather forecasters say the storm could strengthen even further in coming days, fed by the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But U.S. National Hurricane Center meteorologist Jack Beven says Isidore's future track is difficult to predict. "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 said. "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."

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