10pm July 7 UPDATE:
As of 11:00 p.m. ET, Dennis’ maximum sustained winds increased to 135 mph, making it a Category 4 major hurricane. Hurricane Dennis has made landfall near Cabo Cruz, Cuba and will continue to move northwestward near the southern coast of Cuba with the circulation center eventually moving over Cuba again on Friday.
A hurricane warning is in effect for Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and eastern and central Cuba (including the city of Havana). A hurricane watch is posted for the western tip of Cuba and the Isle of Youth.
The approach of Hurricane Dennis put the Cayman Islands on a full storm preparedness footing Thursday, with the Sister Islands expected to take more of an impact than Grand Cayman.
Late Thursday morning, however, Dennis turned more to the northwest and away from the Cayman Islands, which should lessen its impact here.
Nevertheless, Dennis had strengthened to a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, and further strengthening was predicted.
National Hurricane Committee chairman Donovan Ebanks said residents on all three island should still take the storm seriously.
‘While there have been favourable changes in the projected path of this system over the past six hours, we cannot drop our guard at this time,’ he said. ‘The next six hours could see a reversal of these changes and we would be back to where we were or worse.’
As of noon Thursday, Dennis was expected to become a major Category 3 hurricane when it passed north of the Cayman Islands early Friday.
Hurricane force winds extended outward up to 45 miles from Dennis’ centre and tropical storm force winds extended outward up to 140 miles.
Cayman Brac and Little Cayman were expected to begin experiencing tropical storm force winds at 1.30am Friday.
Rainfall of four to six inches was expected throughout the Cayman Islands as a result of the storm.
Seas of four to eight feet in the Sister Islands and two to four feet on Grand Cayman were also expected.
Government offices on Cayman Brac closed at 11am Thursday and hurricane shelters there opened at 3pm.
Government offices on Grand Cayman closed at 1 p.m. and five hurricane shelters, one in each of the districts, were opened at 6pm on Grand Cayman.
Cayman Airways added five additional flights to Miami on Thursday to help tourists and residents evacuate, CEO Mike Adam said.
However, with the hurricane’s northward turn, the late flights on Thursday were not booking up and in danger of being cancelled, Mr. Adam said.
Cayman Airways was also running additional Twin Otter flights to Cayman Brac, and a special jet flight was scheduled to leave there for Grand Cayman at 6.15pm, flying on to Miami afterwards.
All major supermarkets in Grand Cayman, which were crowded with customers buying hurricane supplies Wednesday night and Thursday morning, announced they would close at 6pm on Thursday and remain closed all day Friday.
On Little Cayman, district commissioner Larry Foster said as of Thursday morning most people were staying on Little Cayman.
‘People are refraining from leaving,’ he said. ‘I guess they are not taking it as seriously as they should,’ he said.
Among those reluctant to leave the island are visitors.
Mr. Foster believes there are more than 100 visitors staying on the island, making a total of about 300 people on Little Cayman.
Gladys Howard of Pirates Point Resort said most of her guests are staying.
‘They all want to stay, apart from one couple, who may leave on their private aircraft this morning,’ she said.
Ms Howard said the feeling from Little Cayman residents is that many of them went to Grand Cayman before Hurricane Ivan and ended up being there where they got the brunt of the storm, so most are deciding to stay on Little Cayman this time.
Mr. Foster believes there will be a problem with overcrowding at the hurricane shelter if more visitors do not leave.
The shelter is the Government’s Public Works Department building, which could fit about 60 people comfortably. Any more than that and people would have to stand up, he said.
‘I know that tourists love coming here and we can’t force them off the island, but when there is a storm approaching and people see that it is necessary to leave, they should leave before it is too late and before the planes cannot fly anymore,’ he said.
Mr. Foster had enquired on Wednesday about tourists leaving and none were, but by Thursday the mood was changing a little. ‘Some are agreeing to leave now but it is hard to say how many,’ he said.