Hurricane pounds Cuba on way to Gulf of Mexico
Havana, September 8, 2008
Hurricane Ike pounded northeastern Cuba with 120 mile per hour (195 kph) winds, torrential rains and massive waves that rolled through coastal towns.
The hurricane is now on a path toward the Gulf of Mexico oil fields and possibly New Orleans.
State-run television showed angry waves slamming into the sea wall and surging as high as nearby five-story apartment buildings before flooding the streets of the city of Baracoa near the eastern tip of the communist-ruled island.
Ike, a dangerous Category 3 storm, had earlier ripped through the southern Bahamas and added to the misery and death toll in storm-battered Haiti. Officials said at least 61 people had died in floods in impoverished Haiti on top of 500 killed last week by Tropical Storm Hanna.
The Cuban Meteorology Institute said the storm crashed into the coast near Punta Lucrecia in the state of Holguin, about 510 miles (823 km) southeast of Havana.
"There is lot of worry, windows are beginning to break," a woman named Carmela said by telephone from the hotel where she works in the city of Holguin, 30 miles (50 km) from Punta Lucrecia. "There's a lot of water, it's raining very heavily."
Officials said at least 1.1 million people were evacuated ahead of a storm expected to slash through the heart of Cuba, which is still reeling from Hurricane Gustav's hard hit on the west side of the long, narrow island last week.
After traversing Cuba, Ike is projected to enter the Gulf of Mexico, where 4,000 platforms produce 25 percent of US oil and 15 percent of its natural gas, and point toward Louisiana and Texas.
Ike may threaten New Orleans, the city swamped in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,500 people and caused $80 billion in damage on the US Gulf Coast. Gustav narrowly missed New Orleans last Monday.
The storm was expected to weaken as it moved across Cuba, but regain strength when it reemerges in the warm Gulf waters. Rainfall up to 20 inches (50.80 cm) was possible in Cuba, forecasters said.
As Ike roared through the Caribbean, residents of the Florida Keys, a 110-mile (177-km) island chain connected by bridges with only one road out, were told to evacuate as a precaution. Ike ripped off roofs and knocked over trees and power lines as it passed over Great Inagua, the Bahamas' southernmost island and Britain's Turks and Caicos islands. No deaths were reported. - Reuters