Tropical Storm Noel grazes Cuba, heads for Bahamas

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MIAMI, Oct 30 (Reuters) Tropical Storm Noel today weakened slightly as it moved inland over northern Cuba but the storm that killed more than a dozen people in the Dominican Republic was expected to briefly become a hurricane later in the week somewhere near the Bahamas.

By 1730 hrs IST), the center of the storm was located 60 km west-northwest of Holguin, Cuba, and its maximum sustained winds had dropped to 85 kph, the US National Hurricane Center said.

Computer models showed the hurricane heading northwest toward Florida but making a sharp turn at some point to the northeast and swirling out over the Bahamas into the Atlantic.

The 14th named storm of the 2007 Atlantic storm season was not expected to strengthen significantly because of unfavorable wind conditions in the atmosphere. But the hurricane center forecast Noel would briefly become a minimal hurricane on its closest approach to southeast Florida.

The Miami-based center's official forecast took Noel's top sustained winds up to a peak of 120 kph, just over the cusp of qualifying as a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

Noel yesterday killed more than a dozen people after dumping torrential rain on the Dominican Republic and the treeless hillsides of neighboring Haiti, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola.

The toll was expected to climb because of reports of several other deaths and more than a dozen missing.

Reuters SG GC1831

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