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Dennis reaches hurricane strength

Cindy downgraded to tropical depression


Wednesday, July 6, 2005; Posted: 8:22 p.m. EDT (00:22 GMT)




MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Tropical Storm Dennis became the first Atlantic hurricane of the 2005 season Wednesday evening after an Air Force reconnaissance plane clocked sustained winds of nearly 80 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.


Meanwhile, Cindy shrank to a tropical depression as it dumped heavy rain across Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.


Dennis formed Tuesday, making July 5 the earliest date in recorded tropical storm history that four named storms have formed in the Atlantic basin, the hurricane center said.


At 6 p.m. ET, Dennis' center was located about 315 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, moving west-northwest at 14 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami reported.


The storm was expected to approach Jamaica early Thursday, forecasters said, and it appeared poised to scoot between that island nation and the southern coast of Cuba.


Hurricane warnings were posted for Jamaica, parts of eastern Cuba and the southwestern peninsula of Haiti, where more than 3,000 people died in flooding and landslides after Hurricane Jeanne hit the impoverished country in 2004. (Full story)


The warnings mean hurricane conditions are expected in the areas within 24 hours.


A tropical storm warning was issued for the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.


Hurricane watches were posted for the Cayman Islands and central and eastern Cuba.


Forecasters said Dennis was likely to increase its intensity as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico later in the week -- possibly developing into a Category 3 storm with winds faster than 115 mph.


The National Hurricane Center predicted Dennis will make landfall Monday near Mobile, Alabama, but cautioned the storm was still too far away for a truly accurate forecast.

Flooding in Jamaica, Haiti


The portion of Cuba facing a hurricane warning includes Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. military operates a detention facility for prisoners from the war on terrorism. The facility holds about 500 detainees.


"It will be bad, but it's not going to be very destructive," Navy Cmdr. Anne Reese told The Associated Press, which reported there were no plans for an evacuation. "We might see some cactus blown over. I'm not expecting a lot of damage."


Forecasters expect Dennis to produce 4-8 inches of rain for southern Hispaniola, Jamaica, eastern Cuba and the Cayman Islands, the hurricane center said.


Up to 12 inches of rain is possible over Jamaica's mountainous terrain, the hurricane center said, warning it "could produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides."


By Wednesday evening, rain flooded a highway connecting Kingston, the capital, to the airport, and authorities were preparing to fly helicopters over the island's southeast area in search of people stranded, Jamaica's emergency management office told the AP.


Flooding also obstructed roads in southern Haiti, the AP reported.

Deadly 2004 season


With 14 named storms and six major hurricanes during the 2004 storm season, the successive blows shattered communities in the Caribbean with one of the most destructive and deadly seasons in recent history. (Full story)


Haiti suffered the worst, with devastating mudslides and substantial numbers of deaths in the northern city of Gonaives. Years of cutting down the forests for firewood left mountainsides devoid of roots to bind soil.


Days of intense rains eventually destabilized the area and covered unsuspecting residents under a mountain of water and debris.


The government said more than a quarter-million people were left homeless -- a devastating blow to a country where about 80 percent of the population lives in poverty.

Cindy raises oil prices


Mobile was already swamped by rains from Cindy, which came ashore late Tuesday near the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana with sustained winds of 70 mph.


Cindy's move across the Gulf of Mexico forced the evacuation of 23 of 819 oil platforms and six of 135 oil rigs, according to the Minerals Management Service. Dennis' approach, as a stronger storm, could prompt more.


The shutdown has interrupted more than 3 percent of the Gulf's normal oil and natural gas production, pushing oil prices above $60 a barrel in trading Wednesday. (Full story)external link


Water covered roads in several locations in the Alabama city, including the Mobile Bay Causeway between Mobile and Spanish Fort. Interstate 10 across the bay was barely above the water level.


By 11 a.m. ET Cindy's winds had dropped to 35 mph, and all watches and warnings were canceled, the hurricane center said, but the rain kept up with the storm's northeastward passage.


The storm was further weakening as it passed over land, but is expected to dump up to 10 inches of rain along the coast and across the southeastern United States.


Capt. Mike Sanders with the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office said the coastal community has held up well.


"No reports of injuries," he said. "A very major inconvenience, but we're very blessed that Cindy seems to be moving and not stalling and that was our main concern."


New Orleans missed the worst of the winds when Cindy pushed ashore east of the city, but the strong winds did knock over trees and bring water over the low-lying streets. By late morning Wednesday, cleanup crews were at work in the area while authorities kept a close eye on Dennis.


Tropical storms Arlene and Bret preceded Dennis and Cindy this year, but neither reached hurricane strength.


CNN's Dan Lothian, Chad Myers, Ninette Sosa and Amanda Moyer contributed to this story.



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