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Hurricane Ike hits Cuba, heads to Gulf of Mexico

Latest update : 2008-09-10

After making a second landfall in Western Cuba, Hurricane Ike is now on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. The storm ravaged eastern parts of Cuba on Monday, killing at least 4 people and destroying hundreds of homes.

HAVANA - Hurricane Ike toppled decrepit
buildings in Havana and raked over western Cuba still
recovering from the more powerful Gustav as it made a second
landfall on the island on a path that may steer it away from
the heart of Gulf of Mexico oilfields.

Heavy rains and high winds pounded the Cuban capital as
Ike, a borderline Category 1 storm on the five-step hurricane
intensity scale with 75 mile per hour (120 km per hour) winds,
passed nearby through the westernmost Pinar del Rio province.

Havana, a city of 2 million people on Cuba's northwest
coast, has many beautiful old but crumbling buildings, prone to
collapse in heavy weather.

Officials said 16 buildings had fallen on Tuesday, but no
injuries were reported. About 250,000 people were evacuated
from low-lying areas and precarious buildings ahead of Ike.

"It sounds like Havana has been invaded by an army of
ghosts," Havana resident Maria Valdez said.

Ike's most likely track would take it to the U.S. coast
near the Texas-Mexico border by Saturday -- a path that posed a
diminished risk to the bulk of the 4,000 platforms that produce
25 percent of U.S. oil and 15 percent of its natural gas.

Oil futures dipped more than $2 to below $105 as Ike
shifted course, but energy companies continued preparations for
the storm. BP Plc <BP.L> said it was shutting down all of its
Gulf production as it evacuates workers from offshore rigs.


The weakened hurricane hit Cuba's southwestern coast after
a rampage through eastern provinces that toppled trees,
destroyed homes and downed power lines. The capital was
littered with trees, foliage and debris as winds howled through
the deserted streets.

Ike's damages could be between $3 billion and $4 billion,
according to "some official sources," said Elisabeth Byrs of
the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs at
a news briefing in Geneva.

Cuban media said four people had died in the storm. Two men
were electrocuted when they tried to take down an antenna that
fell into a power line, a woman died when her house collapsed
and a man was crushed when a tree toppled onto his home.

Hurricane deaths are rare in Cuba, where the government
conducts mass evacuations.

Ike made its second landfall in Cuba at Punta la Capitana
in western Pinar del Rio province on Tuesday morning.

Its center was about 65 miles (105 km) west-southwest of
Havana at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) and moving west-northwest at 12
mph (19 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Officials said 80,000 people had been evacuated in Pinar
del Rio, where Hurricane Gustav leveled nearly everything in
its path with 150 mph (240 kph) winds 10 days ago before moving
on to Louisiana, on the U.S. Gulf coast, two days later.
Gustav went ashore near New Orleans, the city swamped by
Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

Storm-weary residents of the western province, many still
awaiting repair of their shattered homes, said that after
Gustav, Ike was a breeze.

"There are strong wind gusts but it's not even a shadow of
Gustav," said Juan Carlos Abadia in the town of Candelaria.
"We're accustomed to it. This is one disaster after another."

For days, Ike appeared to be aimed at the heart of U.S.
energy production near the coast of Louisiana and east Texas.
As a result, energy companies, which had shut down most oil and
gas output during Gustav, delayed restarting production or
began closing it down again.

Although Ike's official long-range track showed it heading
toward the Mexican border, a couple of computer models still
had it aimed more toward east Texas, closer to where the
largest concentration of offshore energy rigs resides.

It was expected to regain Category 3 strength before
hitting the coast.

The southward shift eased fears that Ike would threaten New
Orleans, still scarred by Katrina, which killed 1,500 people
and caused $80 billion in damage on the U.S. Gulf Coast.


Ike caused serious damage when it hit Britain's Turks and
Caicos Islands and the southern Bahamas. Floods triggered by
its torrential rains were blamed for at least 66 deaths in
Haiti, where Tropical Storm Hanna killed 500 last week.

The United Nations said it would launch an emergency appeal
for money with about 800,000 people in Haiti in need of urgent
help, nearly half of them children. The impoverished nation has
been hit by four storms in a month.

State-run Cuban media showed videos of widespread damage in
the eastern provinces, which bore the full brunt of the storm
and where rainfall topped 15 inches (40 cm) in many places.

Ike was expected to take a toll on Cuba's economy, still
reeling from Gustav's destruction of more than 100,000 homes.

The storm swept through the main growing regions for sugar
and coffee and shut down Cuba's nickel mines and processing
plants. Production of nickel, the island's top export, was
stopped as the storm approached on Sunday.

Date created : 2008-09-09