Preliminary reports suggest only moderate damage occurred as Hurricane Rita threaded the needle between the Florida Keys and the northern coast of Cuba Tuesday afternoon flooding roads and beaches with seawater.
As Rita’s 100 mph winds whipped past Key West its roads became flooded and according to authorities, even further north, between Florida City and Key Largo, the road was closed.
Rita’s dangerous core made its closest approach to Key West at around 2:30 p.m., precisely when high tide arrived at Key West Harbor.
In a special advisory the National Weather Service’s office in Key West said, ”Residents of the Florida Keys may receive some roof damage to homes and businesses. Some trees and power poles may be toppled as well. Mobile homes are not safe.”
The hurricane center is predicting Rita will strengthen into a major Category 3 hurricane as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico and heads toward landfall early Saturday, possibly in Texas.
In its 5 p.m. EDT advisory the National Hurricane Center reported Hurricane Rita had 100 mph sustained winds with higher gusts. Rita was passing 50 miles south of Key West and 55 miles north-northwest of Havana, Cuba. Rita was moving at 15 mph into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico.
A hurricane warning remains in effect for all of the Florida Keys and from south of Florida City on Florida’s southeast coast south to east Cape Sable, then north to Chokoloskee on the southwest coast. The hurricane warning will likely be discontinued later today as Rita moves farther into the Gulf of Mexico.
A hurricane warning remains in effect for the Cuban provinces of Matanzas, Ciudad de Habana and La Habana.
A tropical storm warning remains in effect along the Florida west coast north of Chokoloskee to Englewood.
A tropical storm warning remains in effect for the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio.
Tropical storm warnings north of Florida City and for Lake Okeechobee have been discontinued.
Storm surge flooding of 4 to 6 feet above normal tide levels along
with large and dangerous battering waves are still possible in the
Florida Keys in areas of onshore flow. Coastal storm surge flooding of 2 to 4 feet is possible along the extreme southeastern Florida coast but gradually decreasing Tuesday evening.
Rita is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 4 to 8 inches over the Florida Keys, central and western Cuba with isolated maximum amounts of 10 inches except up to 20 inches over portions of western Cuba. rainfall amounts of 4 to 6 inches are possible across the southern Florida peninsula.
There is possibility of isolated tornados over South Florida and the Florida Keys.
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