Tropical Storm Fay Heads Toward Florida

A strengthening Tropical Storm Fay, which killed at least 57 people in the Caribbean over the weekend, took aim at Florida on Monday after breezing across Cuba and causing little damage.

The storm was emerging into the Florida Straits where it was expected to pick up steam before striking the low-lying and flood-prone Florida Keys later in the day, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

It was forecast to be near hurricane strength, with top sustained winds near 74 miles per hour (118 km per hour), when it reaches the Keys, and a hurricane by the time it strikes the west coast of Florida, the Miami-based hurricane center said in an advisory.

According to the center's latest advisory, Fay was located 80 miles (125 km) east of Havana and 100 miles (160 km) south-southeast of Key West, Florida, the center said.

It was moving north-northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).

Fay, the sixth storm of the Atlantic cyclone season, swept into Cuba southeast of Havana with winds of 50 mph (80 kph).

The winds had climbed to 60 mph (96 kph) as Fay was moving off the Cuban coast.

Hurricane watches were in effect for the Keys and western Florida.

Cuba's Meteorological Institute said all watches for the island had been dropped as Fay headed out to sea.

Forecasters had predicted rains up eight inches (20 cm) for Cuba, but residents in its path said they had heavy rains for only an hour or so as Fay moved along at a brisk pace.

Cuban officials ordered evacuations of low-lying parts of Havana, but the storm produced only a mild breeze and intermittent showers.

In the Florida Keys, tourists fleeing Fay created bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway out of the islands at the state's tip.

The mood of residents was typically nonchalant -- a strong storm or weak hurricane was unlikely to pose a serious threat to the Keys -- but many store owners in Key West boarded up their shops on Sunday night.

In Haiti, officials said about 50 people died when a bus tried to cross a river swollen by Fay's rains.

Five others were killed in Haiti and the Dominican Republic in flood-related accidents.

Jamaica said a middle-aged couple died in the capital, Kingston, when their car was caught in a flooded crossing.

Florida officials said they deployed 500 National Guard troops and would keep closed some schools that were scheduled to open on Monday.

Even though Fay was expected to hit western Florida, far from U.S. oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, Shell Oil pulled 400 workers from offshore platforms over the weekend and Marathon Oil said it would take an unspecified number of workers off its offshore facilities.

Orange juice futures prices shot up as Fay took aim at the main citrus growing areas of Florida, dealers said.