HAVANA - Hurricane Ike moved away from Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, targeting Texas near the U.S. offshore oil patch after shredding crumbling old buildings in Havana and ripping the communist-run island from end to end.
Ike, barely a Category 1 storm on Tuesday evening with 75 mile-per-hour (120-kph) winds, left a long trail of destruction across the Caribbean and had energy companies fearful it could do the same to their Gulf oil rigs as they scurried to evacuate workers and shut down production.
Forecasters said Ike would likely regain power in the Gulf's warm waters and possibly become a major storm again, revving up to a Category 3 on the five-step hurricane intensity scale with a minimum of 115 mph (178 kph) winds.
But latest projections pointed Ike toward the middle of the Texas coast, skirting to the west of the main region for offshore production in the Gulf, which provides a quarter of U.S. oil and 15 percent of its natural gas.
Oil futures dipped more than $2 to below $105 on the forecast, although the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami warned that its projections were subject to change.
New Orleans, still scarred by Katrina, which killed 1,500 people and caused $80 billion in damage on the U.S. Gulf Coast
in 2005, appeared to be out of danger.
The hurricane center said in its latest advisory the storm was 95 miles (145 km) west of Havana and moving west-northwest at 10 mph (17 kph).
Ike wreaked widespread damage on the east and west sides of Cuba.
Few official figures have emerged yet, but state-run media showed a panorama of destruction across the island, still
reeling from the more powerful Hurricane Gustav 10 days ago.
Ike struck eastern Cuba on Sunday with 120 mph (195 kph) winds and torrential rains that destroyed buildings, wiped out
the electricity grid, toppled trees, leveled crops including sugar cane fields, and turned rivers into wide, roaring
Up to 15 inches (40 cm) of rain had already drenched the island and the downpour continued on Tuesday even as Ike moved away, causing widespread flooding and growing alarm among officials.
"Looking ahead, the rains will be the most important danger factor," Civil Defense Col. Jose Betancourt warned on state
Ike's damages could total 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.
Havana, which barely escaped the full wrath of Gustav, was pounded by Ike's winds and rain on Monday and Tuesday, which toppled at least 16 of the many beautiful but crumbling old buildings in the capital.
"It sounds like Havana has been invaded by an army of ghosts," Havana resident Maria Valdez said, referring to the
howling winds that blew through streets littered with fallen trees, foliage and debris.
A total of 2.6 million people were evacuated ahead of Ike, or about 22 percent of the country's 11.4 million population,
but officials said four people died in the eastern provinces.
No deaths were reported in Gustav, but state-run Prensa Latina said on Tuesday it damaged 140,000 buildings -- 90,000
of them homes -- when it blasted across the Isle of Youth and westernmost province Pinar del Rio.
After crossing the eastern provinces, Ike dipped into the Caribbean and headed northwest where it made its second Cuba
landfall on Tuesday at Punta la Capitana in westernmost Pinar del Rio province.
The storm ripped across the same region struck by Gustav before leaving the island near the town of Manuel Sanguily on
Pinar del Rio's north central coast.
Storm-weary residents of the 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."
Before Cuba, Ike hit Britain's Turks and Caicos Islands and the southern Bahamas as a ferocious Category 4 hurricane.
Floods triggered by its torrential rains were blamed for at least 66 deaths in Haiti, where Tropical Storm Hanna killed 500
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 country has been hit by four storms in a month.
Brazilian President Lula Inacio Lula de Silva conferred with Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday and offered
humanitarian aid to both Cuba and Haiti.