Hurricane Paloma has strengthened over the Caribbean, and is on a track that would take the Category 1 storm near the Cayman Islands late Friday or early Saturday before hitting Cuba.

Paloma is expected to gain momentum as it moves over the warm waters of the Caribbean and could reach Category 3 intensity with maximum winds of 130 mph before weakening to a tropical storm by Monday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Storm surges as high as six feet, accompanied by battering waves and heavy rain, are forecast for the Caymans.

Cuba was battered by Hurricane Ike in early September, killing four and prompting authorities to evacuate as many as 2 million people. In late August, Hurricane Gustav hit the island with 150 mph winds, also forcing evacuations.

Paloma is the 16th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30. Forecasters projected at least 17 named storms, including nine hurricanes.

The next name on the list is Rene (the letter Q is omitted).


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