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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Deadly Hurricane Strikes Haiti, Cuba

MIAMI -- Deadly Hurricane Dennis strengthened into a monster storm capable of causing immense damage as it thundered toward the U.S. Gulf Coast, forecast to hit land later on Sunday somewhere near the Alabama-Florida border.

Dennis, which killed 32 people in a rampage past Haiti and over Cuba before heading into the Gulf of Mexico early on Saturday, was carrying winds of 230 kilometers per hour, with higher gusts, by early on Sunday morning.

The hurricane was set to hit land in an area still recovering from a battering last September by Hurricane Ivan.

Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center said early Sunday that Dennis, which intensified as it rolled north over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico during Saturday, had strengthened into an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

"This is going to do a lot of damage before it's all over," Max Mayfield, director of the hurricane center, told CNN late on Saturday.

Authorities in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi urged more than 1.2 million people in vulnerable low-lying areas to leave their homes and many heeded the warning, streaming away in long lines of cars all day Saturday and draining gas stations dry.

Forecasters warned Dennis could bring a storm surge of up to 5.7 meters above normal tide levels, with large and dangerous battering waves, and rainfall of as much as 38 centimeters in the area where it makes landfall.

Before heading north through the Gulf, Dennis grazed southern Florida, brushing past the popular tourist island of Key West on the state's southern tip. State officials said 163,000 homes and businesses were without power by Saturday evening.