Hurricane Ike weakens to Category 2 over Cuba

Cuba's 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.

Hurricane Ike weakens to Category 2 over Cuba

Hurricane Ike weakened into a Category 2 storm on Monday after roaring ashore in northeastern Cuba, but forecasters say it could regain intensity as it spins toward the U.S. oil hub in the Gulf of Mexico and possibly New Orleans.

Ike pounded northeastern Cuba with 105 mile per hour (165 kph) winds, torrential rains and massive waves, and it could slow further to a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale as it runs the 700-mile (1,125 km) island, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Cuba's 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.

While a dangerous Category 3 storm, Ike had 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 could regain Category 3 strength over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters and threaten the 4,000 platforms that produce 25 percent of U.S. oil and 15 percent of its natural gas, and point toward Louisiana and Texas.

Oil jumped $1.50 to above $107 a barrel on Monday on worries that Ike would tear through the Gulf and while traders awaited OPEC's decision this week on output policy.

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 U.S. Gulf Coast. Gustav narrowly missed New Orleans last Monday.

Over central Cuba

At 5 a.m. (0900 GMT), Ike was 40 miles (65 km) southeast of Camaguey, Cuba, heading west near 15 mph (24 kph). The storm's center was expected to spin over central Cuba during Monday and reach the Gulf by late Tuesday, the hurricane center said.

Rainfall of up to 20 inches (50.80 cm) in Cuba was possible, 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.

It hit Turks and Caicos as a Category 4 storm with 135 mph (215 kph) winds, damaging 80 percent of the houses on Grand Turk, home to about 2,500 of the islands' 22,000 residents, government spokesman Courtney Robinson said.

Ike dumped more heavy rain on Haiti, where officials said 57 of the 61 victims on Sunday died in Cabaret, a town north of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

"The whole village is flooded," civil protection official Moise Jean-Pierre said. "The death toll could go higher."

Flooding from Tropical Storm Hanna last week was believed to have killed at least 500 people around the port city of Gonaives.

Cuban authorities used buses, trucks and other transportation to move thousands of tourists from prime resorts along the northern coast. Ranchers herded cattle in grazing areas of eastern Las Tunas and Camaguey to higher ground.

In Havana, police with loudspeakers passed through the streets urging people to take steps to protect their property.

Holguin, where Ike came ashore, is home to Cuba's nickel industry, the country's most important export. Holguin's mines and three processing plants in the mountains were shut down.

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who has taken to writing columns since handing over power to his brother Raul, wrote on Sunday that the flow of international aid to Cuba since Gustav showed that it had many friends who wanted to help.

He said, without giving details, that close ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had taken "measures that make up the most generous gesture of solidarity that our country has known."

Oil companies had begun returning workers to the offshore platforms that were evacuated before Gustav hit but began preparing for the arrival of Ike.

Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Eylül 2008, 13:41
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