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Cesar gets stronger, heads west

Tropical Storm Cesar, churning up the southern Caribbean, was expected to become a hurricane and hit the thinly populated coast of Nicaragua by late this afternoon.

At 8 p.m. Friday Cesar was 415 miles east of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, and moving almost due west at 16 mph, said Mike Hopkins, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The tropical storm's maximum sustained winds were near 50 mph, about 5 mph faster than a day earlier. A tropical storm becomes a hurricane at 74 mph. "The forecast is for it to become a minimal hurricane," Hopkins said.

Mudslides triggered by the storm killed three people in Venezuela.

Areas under hurricane warnings include the Colombian islands of San Andres and Providencia, which are popular with scuba divers and which attract groups of American divers throughout the year. The islands are about 120 miles off Nicaragua's coast.

At 11 p.m. the center of Cesar was at 11.7 north latitude and 78.4 west longitude.

Elsewhere on Friday:

Thousands of Quebec residents returned to their devastated communities to begin the massive task of rebuilding after floods that killed 10 and caused $500-million (Canadian) in damage.

About 5,000 evacuees were to be allowed back to their homes Friday and today in the Saguenay region, about 155 miles north of Quebec City. That would bring to 9,000 the number of people who have returned since heavy rains last weekend caused the flooding. Another 3,000 remained homeless and may have to wait months before they can move into permanent dwellings.

About 350 homes were destroyed in the torrents of waters that tore through several communities, washing out roads, bridges and railway lines. Officials said another 200 homes may have to be condemned.

Officials said the disaster was caused by torrential rains _ 11 inches over three days beginning July 18 _ that swelled rivers, lakes and reservoirs.

One person was killed and 14 were missing after flash floods generated by Typhoon Gloria swept a bus off a road on the island of Mindoro, 110 miles south of Manila. The accident, brought the death toll in the Philippines to 23, with 20 missing. At least 18,000 families fled their homes to escape landslides and rain-swollen rivers.

Floods in Bangladesh and India have killed at least 235 people over the past two weeks after major rivers burst their banks, and more rain is on the way.