Tropical Storm Wilma gathers strength

Authorities urged residents to be on alert as Tropical Storm Wilma’s outer edge neared the Cayman Islands on Monday, packing strong rain and wind as it cut a path that could threaten Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula or Cuba.

The record-tying 21st named storm of the season was moving slowly through the north-western Caribbean and was expected to pass south-east of the Cayman Islands, which were badly damaged by Hurricane Ivan last year.

“We’re waiting with bated breath to see what will happen,” said Brent Santha, a vice-president at the water company. “We’re hoping and praying it will change direction.”

In Jamaica, heavy rainfall from Wilma’s outer bands flooded several low-lying communities, blocked roads with mud and forced 100 people into shelters, said Barbara Carby, head of Jamaica’s emergency office.

A 35-year-old farmer drowned on Sunday in central Jamaica after he was swept away by a rain-swollen river while trying to retrieve some goats that were too close to the banks, police Constable Keisha Scott said.

Forecasters said Wilma could grow into a minimal category-one hurricane by Tuesday afternoon. Current models show the storm could head toward the Yucatan Peninsula or Cuba over the next several days.

“As it stands right now, there’s going to be an impact on the Yucatan and Cuba just because of the size of the system.
They’re going to get some wind and rain,” said Dave Roberts, a forecaster at the United States National Hurricane Centre in Miami.

He said Wilma could move into the Gulf of Mexico by the weekend but warned “there’s quite a bit of uncertainty” about where the storm might go because of its limited movement.

“Because of the lack of motion, the uncertainty is expanded,” he said. “Through the course of the week, we’re going to have a better idea.”

At 8pm local time, Wilma had top sustained winds near 80kph. It was centred about 425km south-east of Grand Cayman and about 360km east-northeast of the Nicaragua-Honduras border.

A hurricane watch was posted for the Caymans, while Honduras posted a tropical-storm warning.

Wilma is the 21st named storm of the season, according to the US National Hurricane Centre. The only other time that as many storms formed since record keeping began 154 years ago was in 1933.

The storm was expected to dump heavy rain over the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Haiti and south-eastern Cuba, with as much as 30cm possible in some areas, forecasters said.

Tootie Eldemire, owner of the Eldemire guest house on Grand Cayman, said she stocked up on water, candles, flashlights and canned goods for her guests but added she wasn’t worried about the storm.

“We’re on alert but we’re not panicking,” Eldemire said, adding that tourists were moving around town as usual.

Many islanders still had storm shutters up from last year’s Hurricane Ivan, which destroyed 70% of buildings on Grand Cayman, the largest island in the three-island British territory of 45 000 people.

The Atlantic hurricane season ends on November 30.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press writer Michelle Spitzer contributed to this report from Miami

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