Hurricane Paloma strengthened into a dangerously powerful storm in the Caribbean on Friday as it bore down on the wealthy British territory of the Cayman Islands and threatened storm-battered Cuba, Reuters reported.
Businesses, schools and government offices closed down in the Cayman Islands, a major financial centre, while residents shuttered their homes and visitors tried to flee as the late-in-the-season storm hurtled northward.
Paloma gathered power menacingly fast as it neared Grand Cayman Island and it became a "major," or Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of storm intensity, with top sustained winds of 115 miles per hour (185 km per hour), late on Friday, the U.S. National Hurricane Centre said.
"I have been through this so many times that a Category 2 or 3 doesn't really bother me anymore. Anything less than a Hurricane Ivan and I am not worried at all," said Paul Aiken, a Cayman businessman, referring to a ferocious 2004 hurricane that caused extensive damage in the territory.
Hurricane Katrina was a Category 3 when it came ashore near New Orleans in 2005 and swamped the low-lying U.S. city, but the Cayman Islands and their solid structures are considered less vulnerable to the fierce tropical storms that churn through the Atlantic and Caribbean between June and the end of November each year.
Paloma doused Honduras with heavy rains as it formed on Thursday, adding to misery in the impoverished Central American country where the U.N. estimates 70,000 people have been made homeless by recent storms.
It posed no threat to U.S. oil installations in the Gulf of Mexico.