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Rita hits Cuba

HAVANA (AFX) - Hurricane Rita smacked central and western Cuba on Tuesday, including Havana and Varadero, with intense wind and rain, and prompting the evacuation of 150,000 persons.

The category two cyclone made landfall at 2200 GMT 90 kilometers (55 miles) northeast of Havana, with 160 kilometer (100 mile) an hour winds, after it struck the Florida Keys, which US authorities had ordered evacuated.

'The storm will keep up its strength and will reach category three in a few hours as it enters the Gulf of Mexico, and could even reach category four,' said Jose Rubiera, head of the forecasting center at the Meteorological Institute of Cuba.

'It will be another intense hurricane,' he said.

About 600 shelters were readied for some 126,000 persons in Havana, but outside the capital and in rural areas, thousands of others had already taken refuge.

Thousands of persons in central and western provinces were also taken to shelters, as were animals and foodstuffs. At least 42,000 persons were given shelter in Matanzas, 31,000 in Villa Claro and 6,300 in Sancti Spiritus.

Twelve thousand tourists were also relocated to safer lodging in Varadero, the principal tourist spot.

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