HAVANA (AP) – Tropical Storm Fay lashed southeastern Cuba with downpours and heavy winds Sunday and was expected to churn over the center of the island before heading toward Florida.

Authorities evacuated dozens of low-lying communities and ordered Cubans to pay close attention to the storm, which they said could spark strong storm surges, flooding and mudslides. Winds ripped the rooves of some homes.

Jose Rubiera, Cuba’s chief meteorologist, said Fay had brought gusts of wind of up to 70 mph (110 kph) as its center roared close to two coastal communities on the island’s southern tip. Still, he said civil defense officials were mostly concerned about the effects of heavy rains.

The storm was expected to gain force, but Rubiera told state television he doubted it would reach hurricane strength before moving over Cuba late Sunday or early Monday. It could then zero in on Florida, where officials have declared a state of emergency.

Before reaching Cuba, Fay battered the island of Hispaniola with torrential rains and flooding, killing one person in Haiti and four in the Dominican Republic.

Fay also damaged crucial Haitian farmland as the country battles a food crisis that has sparked deadly riots. It was unclear how many acres were affected.

In neighboring Dominican Republic, drivers in the capital on Sunday had to swerve to avoid trees and power lines that had fallen across streets.

At 5:00 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT), Fay was centered about 205 miles (335 kilometers) southeast of Havana and about 270 miles (435 kilometers) south-southeast of Key West, Florida, on Sunday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

It had maximum sustained winds near 50 mph (85 kph), was moving west-northwest at 15 mph (24 kph) and was expected to turn to the northwest by late Monday.

Authorities in five central Cuban provinces evacuated more than 3,000 residents, pulled fishing boats out of the water and moved farm animals to higher ground, setting up temporary shelters and food distribution centers, civil defense authorities said.

In Havana, dark clouds rolled in at midday, but rainfall was light and there was little sign of concern on the streets.

But Fay already was drenching the southern coast. A banana plantation sustained minor flooding in Granma province and storm winds damaged roofs on some homes, state media reported.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Fay could approach hurricane strength as it nears the Florida Keys late Monday or early Tuesday, possibly making landfall along the western coast of Florida.


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