Leaving eight people dead in its wake across Central America, Hurricane Lili closed in on Cuba with 118 mph winds Thursday and unloaded rain on already saturated South Florida.
News reports out of Cuba said 28,000 residents had been evacuated from low-lying central and western coastal areas and 100,000 students were sent home. Cuba also said it was ready to evacuate 86,000 people in the Havana area.
Meteorologists met Thursday evening with President Fidel Castro to discuss Lili’s path toward Havana, the state news agency Prensa Latina said in a Havana dispatch monitored in Mexico City.
The hurricane was expected to cross Cuba early today, squeeze through the Florida Straits separating Cuba and Florida, and head for the Bahamas. Forecasters said Florida will probably get no more than glancing blow.
Thursday evening, Lili was centered about 125 miles southwest of Havana and 300 miles southwest of Miami. It was moving northeast at 12 mph.
Lili left thousands homeless and stranded more as rain-gorged rivers made bridges and roads impassable in Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua. Costa Rican authorities said a child and two adults were reported dead Wednesday, in addition to the five drownings reported in the region on Tuesday.
Along the Florida Keys, a smattering of businesses and homes had storm shutters in place. In Key West, few tourists milled about the shops. Ernest Hemingway’s home was closed to the public and its windows covered with plywood.
“I’ve put up some shutters on the house, but not the business,” said Ed Davidson, a dive shop operator in Marathon, Fla. “In the keys, in ‘Manana County,’ we don’t get too serious. When it starts to blow the foam off your beer, then it’s time to get serious.”
In Mexico, the port on the island of Cozumel was closed, and 20 shelters opened to take people evacuating low-lying areas. A hurricane watch was in effect in the Cayman Islands.
In South Florida, rain kept falling on ground drenched even before Tropical Storm Josephine hit last week. As much as 8 inches of rain fell in two days this week in the keys.
Water managers prepared for more rain by opening drainage canal floodgates across much of the Miami area.