IMAGE: Flooding in Haiti
Ariana Cubillos  /  AP
A man on a bicycle rides on a street flooded by heavy rains from Hurricane Ernesto in Les Cayes, Haiti, about 90 miles from Port-au-Prince.
updated 8/28/2006 9:49:23 PM ET 2006-08-29T01:49:23

The Florida ports of Miami and Fort Lauderdale were set to shut to all inbound vessel traffic on Monday evening due to Tropical Storm Ernesto, a U.S. Coast Guard official said.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Monday Ernesto was likely to miss the Gulf of Mexico and strike the Florida peninsula before passing into the Atlantic later this week.

"We're preparing to shut down Miami and Fort Lauderdale ports sometime this evening, within two hours," the U.S. Coast Guard official said.

As part of the protocol, the ports have to be shut 24 hours before the arrival of hurricane winds, the official said.

"All incoming vessel traffic will be halted, except for essential cargoes, such as oil tankers," he said.

However, the oil tankers would be allowed into the ports on a case-by-case basis, he added.

Oil tankers would have to stay out at sea if the ports have enough oil in storage, he said.

Some oil traders in the Northeast said there were no gasoline tankers heading to Miami and Fort Lauderdale at this time

No impact on gas supply expected
"It (the storm) will not have a major impact on the gasoline market," a gasoline trader said. "There may be some tankers heading for Tampa, but nothing for Miami."

Another trader said there might be some tankers delivering fuel oil to Miami for power generation.

On the west coast of Florida, the ports remained open to all commercial traffic, but a shipping advisory to recreational boat users was issued Monday, a second U.S. Coast Guard official said.

"All recreational boaters have been advised to stay out of the water and stay clear of the beaches and low-lying areas," she said.

In the freight market, the tanker rates in the Caribbean market continued to fall late on Monday, shrugging off the potential bullish impact from the storm.

Precautions in Cuba
Ernesto drenched eastern Cuba on Monday, then aimed north toward the warm waters of the open Caribbean sea and Florida where forecasters expected it to hit shore as a hurricane.

Ernesto became the Atlantic season’s first hurricane Sunday morning, then weakened to a tropical storm after dumping rain on Haiti’s denuded mountains. It was expected to regain strength after passing over Cuba near the prison at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay where about 445 inmates were safe inside their windowless or storm-hardened cells.

Military personnel, except for guards and people in other critical jobs, were told to stay in their quarters until the storm passed, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Department of Defense spokesman.

Mass evacuations
Thousands were evacuated ahead of the storm in Cuba, where the communist government regularly undertakes mass evacuations before tropical storms and hurricanes to minimize injury and loss of life. There were no reports of damage.

Cubans moved cattle to higher ground, tourists were evacuated from hotels in the southeastern province of Granma and baseball games, including a pre-Olympic qualifier between the United States and Mexico, were rescheduled for earlier in the day. Train service across the country was also stopped while the storm passes.

A hurricane watch also was posted for the northwestern Bahamas and a tropical storm warning was issued for the central Bahamas.

Cruise ship companies said they were diverting several liners to avoid the storm.

Ernesto could return to open ocean north of Cuba as early as Monday night, Rubiera said.

In a four-hour period early Monday, the storm dropped 3.3 inches of water in the province of Guantanamo, authorities said.

Haiti hunkers down
In Haiti, heavy rains in some mountain areas raised fears of flash floods in the heavily deforested country. But only one death was reported — a woman who drowned Sunday on Vache island, off Haiti’s south coast, said Elizabeth Verluyten, a disaster management coordinator in the country for the Pan American Health Organization.

People put goats and cows into shelters, fishermen pulled nets ashore and Haitian officials went on the radio to warn people in flimsy shantytowns to seek shelter in schools and churches as the storm approached. As the storm passed, government and relief officials planned to fly over affected areas to assess any damage, Verluyten said.

In the neighboring Dominican Republic, heavy rains swelled rivers and flooded more than 400 houses in the capital of Santo Domingo and nearby San Cristobal province, displacing 1,656 people, Juan Manuel Mendez of the National Emergency Commission said Monday.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for Jamaica and the central Bahamas.

Cruise ship companies said they were diverting several liners to avoid the storm.

Florida in the crosshairs
Forecasters warned that in three days, Ernesto could hit anywhere in Florida.

“We do expect it to reach the gulf, maybe as a Category 1 hurricane, possibly a Category 2,” said John Cangialosi, a meteorologist with U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. “It’s difficult to say where it will be, but in three days we’re projecting it anywhere from the eastern gulf near the Florida panhandle to the western Bahamas.”

About 400 miles of the Florida coast was under a hurricane watch from New Smyrna Beach southward on the east coast and from Chokoloskee southward on the west coast. The Keys were put under a watch Sunday.

‘Take this storm very seriously’
“I don’t want anyone to overly focus on the downgrading. ... It has a good chance to regain hurricane status,” said Max Mayfield, director of the hurricane center.

Bush urged Florida residents to make preparations and not wait until the storm is upgraded. It’s a familiar theme, considering seven hurricanes have hit Florida and one has brushed by in the past two years.

“My suggestion: Take this storm very seriously,” said Bush, urging people to have 72 hours worth of supplies. “A hurricane is a hurricane.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Ernesto eyes U.S.

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