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Castro Prepares Cuba for Ivan, Florida Hopes for a Near Miss

By Ginger Thompson and Joseph B. Treaster

The New York Times -- HAVANA

Hurricane Ivan hammered the Cayman Islands on Sunday with winds that moved like bulldozers at 155 mph, as thousands of people in Cuba and Florida braced for one of the most powerful storms to boil up out of the Atlantic.

Ahead of the storm, Cuba, the most populated island in the Caribbean, evacuated nearly 1 million people to shelters and moved truckloads of food into fortified warehouses.

President Fidel Castro spent more than two hours Saturday night on state television with high-ranking military officers and civil defense officials to inform people about the hurricane’s magnitude and course. They said they expected the storm to hit the western tip of the island, known for producing some of the highest quality cigars in the world. But, Castro said in the address, “The country is prepared for this hurricane.”

In Florida, residents of the Keys expressed relief that forecasters now expected the hurricane to skirt to the west, bypassing them and charging up the Gulf of Mexico to the Panhandle region of the state. But Jimmy Weekley, the mayor of Key West, said he was holding firm to his mandatory evacuation order.

“My gut feeling is that if this storm takes just a little wobble toward the east, it could be right back here,” Weekley said Sunday afternoon. On Sunday, Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency.

Over the last week, Hurricane Ivan has left a trail of death and destruction during its slow march past Grenada, Venezuela and Jamaica. Authorities say Ivan is the sixth-strongest hurricane ever recorded. At least 65 people have been reported killed, and authorities expect that number to rise.

On Sunday, Hurricane Ivan, a strong Category 5 storm, battered the Cayman Islands, tearing roofs and uprooting trees three stories tall.