TAMPA, Fla. - A storm beginning to pound Florida's Gulf Coast reached hurricane strength Saturday after deluging western Cuba with up to 10 inches of rain early in the day.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush activated emergency response teams as rains pushed by Hurricane Gordon moved on shore.
Storm watches and warnings were posted along the Gulf Coast, and several counties recommended voluntary evacuations of barrier islands and coastal or low lying areas. Up to 5 inches of rain was possible by Sunday in the Keys and across much of southern and central Florida, officials said.
Saturday afternoon, Gordon was about 290 miles southwest of Tampa with sustained winds of 75 mph and gusts up to 90 mph. The minimum for a storm to be called a hurricane is 74 mph.
State officials said Gordon could strike anywhere between Fort Myers and the Panhandle sometime late Sunday as a Category 1 hurricane, with sustained wind of 74 to 95 mph.
The National Hurricane Center posted a warning for a 210-mile stretch from Bonita Beach, just south of Fort Myers, to the Suwanee River, about 100 miles north of Tampa. A hurricane watch was issued for a 400-mile stretch from Bonita Beach to the Panhandle town of Apalachicola.
Across the state on the Atlantic Coast, NASA considered moving the space shuttle Discovery off its seaside launch pad at Cape Canaveral and into its hangar. Discovery is scheduled to blast off Oct. 5 on a space station construction mission.
Bands of showers already were moving across Florida during the afternoon Saturday.
Disaster officials in Hernando, Manatee and Pinellas counties told residents they should start packing and that shelters would be opened for them late Saturday.
In addition to Gordon's heavy rain early Saturday in Cuba, the storm had poured heavy rain on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula on Friday, causing street flooding in the resort city of Cancun.
In the central Atlantic, meanwhile, Hurricane Florence dashed past Bermuda, giving the island nation only a glancing blow. Wind blew across Bermuda at 60 mph early Saturday as Hurricane Florence passed north of the island. There was no damage or flooding, said James Buxton, meteorologist with the Bermuda Weather Service.
Rip currents associated with Florence were blamed for at least three surf deaths Tuesday in North Carolina.
At noon EDT, Florence was 180 miles north-northeast of Bermuda and was moving toward the northeast at 25 mph. Near its center, it still packed hurricane-force wind of about 75 mph, forecasters said.
Elsewhere, a tropical storm watch in the Leeward Islands was discontinued because a tropical depression sighted early Saturday was quickly downgraded to a tropical wave.
The wave had top sustained wind of 35 mph. At 1 p.m. EDT, it was located about 230 miles east of Guadeloupe in the Leeward Islands and was moving west near 17 mph.
On the Net:
National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov