BREAKING NEWS:Ernesto’s path shifts from CI

The path of Hurricane Ernesto continued to move slightly away from the Cayman Islands Sunday morning, but there has been significant intensification of the storm as it moves slowly at 9mph.

Michael Brennan

Meteorologist Michael Brennan works at a computer Sunday, Aug. 27, 2006 at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Hurricane Ernesto, shown as the red swirl on the map, became the first hurricane of the Atlantic season Sunday with winds of 75 mph, and forecasters said it would strengthen as it headed toward the Gulf of Mexico, where it could menace a wide swath of coastline including New Orleans. Photo:AP

The National Hurricane Center continues to maintain its current Hurricane Watch and will continue to monitor the system closely. Residents are urged to do likewise and to continue to pay close attention to local media.

Based on the 10 am advisory, the Cayman Islands Weather Service continues to forecast squally weather conditions from Monday evening through Tuesday for all three islands. Rough seas can be expected particularly on the north and east sides of the Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, with a similar but less intense scenario for Grand Cayman.

All residents of the Cayman Islands should continue to exercise care, given continued potential for change in the projected path of the system. Present projections are that the centre of Ernesto will pass very near the southwestern tip of Haiti this afternoon or early evening and be near the southeastern coast of Cuba Monday morning.

The next NHC advisory will be issued in time for the 6 pm local news. Tropical Storm Ernesto strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane Sunday as it steamed through the central Caribbean toward Haiti, becoming the first hurricane of the 2006 Atlantic season.

The storm’s maximum sustained winds increased to 75 mph, just above the threshold for a hurricane, said the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Ernesto could grow into a Category 3 hurricane by Thursday, menacing a broad swath of the Gulf Coast including hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, the hurricane center said earlier. Category 3 Hurricane Katrina struck the city a year ago Tuesday.

“It looks likely that it will hit (the U.S.), but it’s way too soon to say where” or how much impact it would have, said John Cangialosi, a meteorologist with the hurricane center. “At this point, keep a close eye, anyone in the Gulf Coast, and just keep monitoring this.”

Members of the Cayman Islands Hurricane Committee are keeping an eye on Ernesto.

‘This system is still to the south and east of us and we cannot relax or guard and feel we are home free yet,’ advised Cayman’s National Hurricane Chairman Donovan Ebanks.

A hurricane watch was in effect for Jamaica and Cuba, where 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 centimeters) of rain were possible. Fisherman were warned to return to shore with tides of up to 3 feet (1 meter) above normal expected.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller put the country’s security forces on alert, and said at a news conference Saturday that all the island’s shelters were open.

“Ensure that the children are not left alone, and make it easier for rescue workers,” she said Jamaica issued advisories by radio and television for residents in low-lying areas across the island to be prepared to evacuate if necessary.

At 10 a.m. EDT, the fifth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was centered about 115 miles (193 kilometers) southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and 205 miles south southwest of Guantanamo, Cuba. Ernesto if moving toward the northwest near 9mph and a northwestward to west-northwestward motion is expected in the next 24 hours.

Heavy showers hit Kingston on Saturday afternoon, causing traffic jams as motorists tried to reach stores. People waited in long lines at supermarkets, filling grocery carts with canned goods, batteries and candles.

“It’s nature and we can’t stop it from taking its course,” said taxi driver Patrick Wallace, 55, as he left a supermarket after buying a stock of canned goods.

Christine Williams, a manager at a Kingston hardware store, said people were buying material to protect their homes.

“They are buying mainly tarpaulin, plywood and building material. We haven’t stopped cashing (ringing people up) from morning,” she said.

Despite sunny skies in the British territory of the Caymans, people packed gas stations, hardware stores and supermarkets, and formed big lines to withdraw money from cash machines. Businesses also boarded up.

Debbie Curigliano, of Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, said she and her husband would ride out the storm at their resort in Seven Mile Beach.

“I am sure they (hotel staff) have been through this before, so I am going to put all my faith in the hotel and I am sure they will guide me right through it,” she said.

In Haiti, emergency officials went on local radio to warn people living in flimsy shantytowns on the southern coast to seek shelter in schools and churches. The hurricane center said Haiti and the Dominican Republic could get up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) of rain in some places which could cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides.

“These people could be in great danger,” said Adel Nazaire, a coordinator with Haiti’s civil protection agency. “Flooding is the biggest concern because a lot of residents live along the rivers and the sea.”

The impoverished Caribbean nation is 90 percent deforested, increasing vulnerability to deadly flooding and mudslides. Fears that the storm could damage offshore energy facilities in the Gulf of Mexico sent oil and natural gas prices higher.

BP PLC had said it would evacuate some 800 of its 2,400 workers from the Gulf of Mexico by late Saturday due to the storm. The evacuated workers are not essential staff, most associated with long-term projects that have not begun producing, BP spokesman Hugh DePland told Dow Jones Newswires.

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