Hurricane Georges pounded Cuba with torrential rains today and took aim at south Florida on a relentless rampage across the Caribbean that has left tens of thousands of people homeless and killed at least 112.
Millions in south Florida were put under a hurricane warning early today, and officials issued the first mainland evacuation requests.
The storm's center was over Cuba today, about 385 miles southeast of Key West, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
It was described as a minimal hurricane, with 75 mph winds as its eye trekked across the center of Cuba, inundating the island with 20 inches of rain in some areas. But it was expected to regain strength before hitting the Florida Keys late today with winds up to 90 mph and then moving up the west coast of the state, forecasters said.
The 80,000 residents of the Florida Keys were ordered out of the 100-mile long island chain on Wednesday. Gov. Lawton Chiles declared a state of emergency in central and southern Florida.
The storm claimed at least two victims today in Cuba. Authorities said a 61-year-old woman died when she left her house and stepped on a live electric cable brought down by high winds. A 56-year-old man was electrocuted after driving over a wire on a motorbike.
Cuba's Civil Defense said more than 500,000 people had been evacuated.
Officials in Guantanamo said crops of coffee and banana had been ruined, while some areas were cut off and without electricity and water.
Cuban President Fidel Castro urged citizens not to let their guard down. The hurricane was expected to move into the sea away from Cuba's coast before hitting the capital Havana.
The hurricane's death toll jumped Wednesday when Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez said at least 70 people had been killed there.