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Saturday, 21 September, 2002, 23:22 GMT 00:22 UK
Hurricane Isidore threatens Mexico
People stand in the floodwaters in western Cuba
Isidore brought heavy rains in western Cuba
Hurricane Isidore, which has pounded western Cuba with strong winds and heavy rains, is heading towards Mexico, threatening its south-eastern Yucatan peninsula.

Satellite map showing Hurricane Isidore
The hurricane has strengthened in the Gulf of Mexico
Isidore has strengthened into a category three storm in the Gulf of Mexico, with winds reaching 195km/h (125mph), the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami (NHC) said.

Mexican authorities closed several ports and evacuated hundreds of residents, amid warnings that the storm may cause heavy coastal flooding in the northern part of Yucatan.

The authorities declared state of emergency in several coastal towns of the peninsular, and said they were prepared to evacuate up to 50,000 more people.

"This could be the biggest evacuation of people for a hurricane in the history of the state," Yucatan Governor Patricio Patron said.

There were also fears that Isidore could turn into a powerful category four hurricane, which could cause extensive damage.

Meteorologists said the slowly drifting storm did not pose a threat to the US Gulf Coast, but warned it could still change its trajectory.

Downpour in Cuba

On Friday, Isidore battered western Cuba, with winds of up to 160 km/h (100mph) and heavy rains.

The storm uprooted trees and blew off some rooftops in Mantua, about 140km (85 miles) west of Havana, before moving towards the Gulf of Mexico.

Tobacco crops damaged by Hurricane Isidore in Pinar del Rio, western Cuba
The storm damaged tobacco crops, the source for Cuba's famed cigars
About 250,000 people and thousands of farm animals were evacuated in Cuba's Pinar del Rio province, and the island's civil defence programme was activated.

No fatalities have been reported.

Cuban President Fidel Castro travelled to the worst hit area to personally supervise evacuation and emergency measures.

He heaved a sigh of relief after the storm veered from its initial trajectory, when it threatened to batter more populous areas of Cuba.

The storm dumped about 63cm (25in) of rain in 24 hours, damaging tobacco stocks, the source of the best leaves for Cuba's famed cigars.

As the storm pulled away, President Castro said it would not hinder Cuba's efforts to recover from the damage caused by last year's Hurricane Michelle, which destroyed thousand of homes.

Michelle - a category four storm which battered Cuba last November - killed five people and cause $1.8bn damage.

US aid

The food crisis caused by that hurricane led to the first US-authorised commercial shipments of food to the communist island since the US imposed a trade embargo in 1962.

Woman and child hold possessions as they prepare to evacuate
Cuba is used to dealing with hurricanes

In 1998, Hurricane Georges also left six people dead in Cuba and hundreds killed across the Caribbean.

The constant damage wrought by hurricanes has led to the formation in Cuba of local neighbourhood watch groups which co-operate with civil defence officials.

The Atlantic hurricane season typically lasts from June to November.

The storms which form later in the season tend to be more slow-moving, giving them more time to gather force, heavy rains and potentially deadly floods.

See also:

16 Dec 01 | Americas
12 Nov 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
05 Nov 01 | Americas
06 Nov 01 | Americas
03 Nov 01 | Americas
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