Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Breaking: Ike turns toward Texas from drenching & reeking havoc in Caribbean

Deadly Hurricane Ike lingered off Cuba after killing four, tearing off roofs and uprooting trees before turning toward the Texas coast.

"Ike is not in a hurry," the US National Hurricane Center said, adding that the storm is still dumping "heavy squalls" over Western Cuba and the Florida Keys. But unlike nearby Haiti, where hundreds were killed by a rapid succession of powerful tropical storms and hurricanes over the past month, Cuba had few casualties after moving some 2.2 million people to safer ground, sparing countless lives.

At 0900 GMT Wednesday, Ike was about 100 miles (165 km) north-northwest of the western tip of Cuba and moving at just seven miles per hour (11 kmh). Maximum sustained winds were near 80 miles per hour (130 km), with higher gusts. The center said the storm, a category one hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, was likely to strengthen into a "major storm" after passing over the warm waters of the central Gulf of Mexico.

Earlier Tuesday the storm crashed into Cuba's Pinar del Rio province from the south barely 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the capital, sparking new flooding in a region blasted two weeks ago by Hurricane Gustav. "Nature gave us another blow. We hadn't even got up from Gustav. Two storms in such a short space of time is terrible," an resident of Pinar del Rio told the AP by telephone.

Gustav charged into the Caribbean island's westernmost province on August 30 and destroyed or severely damaged 140,000 homes and buildings before heading to the US Gulf of Mexico coastline. Although Ike was much weaker than Gustav -- category one compared with category four on the five-notch Saffir-Simpson scale -- it compounded Pinar del Rio's devastation, where some 100,000 homes were already destroyed and 600 schools damaged.

In the capital, authorities evacuated more than 20,000 people from colonial-era Old Havana, an elegant but fragile UNESCO World Heritage Site of centuries-old buildings that are prone to cave-ins. Electricity posts, trees and traffic lights lay battered on the ground and only police patroled the streets.

Residents barricaded their homes, lacking electricity and running water as they waited for the storm to pass. "Everything is boarded up. It feels as if everything is flying around outside," a 49-year-old housewife told AFP from her home in the Vedado district.

Meanwhile, giant waves beat against the walls of Cuba's famous Malecon seaside walkway. Ike is now forecast to move into the Gulf of Mexico, home to the bulk of US oil refineries, and move toward the southern Texas coastline where it could strike land early Saturday, according to the NHC. Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell said it had evacuated 150 workers and would move its remaining 500 employees out of the Gulf by Wednesday.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched a 5.8 million dollar (3.9 million euro) appeal Tuesday to help Cuba tackle a "very destructive" wave of hurricanes. Ike's toll was much higher in Haiti , where it dumped heavy rains on northern towns and cities already inundated and struck by huge mudslides from three previous storms.

Since Monday, 101 bodies have been found in Gonaives , the Haitian city hardest hit by Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike, Vicky Delore-Ndjeuga, a spokesman for the UN Mission in Haiti, told AFP.

"As the floodwaters recede, we found three more bodies in the city," Delore-Ndjeuga said. "The total is now 101 dead." She warned, however, that the toll could increase as residents get increasingly desperate. "If we don't find a way to deliver massive humanitarian aid, we will see fights and riots that will kill more people than the cyclone did."


Sources: National Hurrican Center, AP

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