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Killer Ike blasts Bahamas, aims at Cuba
BayBak, Azerbaijan | 1719 days ago | Sunday, 7th September , 2008 , 23:04 [pm] | International
|.|| Ike roared across low-lying islands Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane, destroying homes, sweeping away boats and bringing more rain to waterlogged communities in Haiti, where at least 10 more people drowned.
Bearing down on the Bahamas and then Cuba on a path that could directly hit Havana, the “extremely dangerous” hurricane forced hundreds of thousands of people to huddle in shelters or seek higher ground. Cuba evacuated vulnerable communities, and with a strike on
Ike roared across low-lying islands Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane, destroying homes, sweeping away boats and bringing more rain to waterlogged communities in Haiti, where at least 10 more people drowned.
Bearing down on the Bahamas and then Cuba on a path that could directly hit Havana, the “extremely dangerous” hurricane forced hundreds of thousands of people to huddle in shelters or seek higher ground. Cuba evacuated vulnerable communities, and with a strike on the Florida Keys possible by Tuesday, residents there fled up a narrow highway.
It was too early to know of deaths on other islands where Ike’s most powerful winds were still blowing.
The center of the hurricane hit the Bahamas’ Great Inagua island, where screaming winds threatened to peel plywood from the windows of a church sheltering about 50 people, shelter manager Janice McKinney said.
“Oh my God, I can’t describe it,” McKinney said, adding that the pastor led everyone in prayer while the winds howled.
At 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), Ike’s eye was just west of Great Inagua Island in the southeastern Bahamas, with maximum sustained winds of 135 mph (215 kph). The hurricane was about 90 miles (155 km) from Guantanamo, Cuba, moving west at 13 mph (21 kph).
“All we can do is hunker down and pray,” reserve police officer Henry Nixon said from a shelter on Great Inagua where about 85 people huddled around a radio.
Great Inagua, closer to Haiti than to the Bahamian capital of Nassau, is the southernmost island in the Bahamas archipelago. It has tens of thousands of pink West Indian flamingos â€” the world’s largest breeding colony â€” and about 1,000 people. Both populations took shelter â€” the pink flamingos gathered under mangrove trees ahead of the storm.
“They know what to do. They always find the sheltered areas,” Nixon said as Ike blew shingles off rooftops.
Rain drove in horizontal sheets and wind tore through roofs across the Turks and Caicos, which has little natural protection from an expected storm surge of up to 18 feet (5.5 meters).
The British territory’s Premier Michael Misick said more than 80 percent of the homes were damaged on two islands and people who didn’t take refuge in shelters were cowering in closets and under stairwells, “just holding on for life.”
“They got hit really, really bad,” Misick said. “A lot of people have lost their houses, and we will have to see what we can do to accommodate them.”
In South Caicos, a fishing-dependent island of 1,500 people, most homes were damaged, the airport was under water, power will be out for weeks, and every single boat was swept away despite being towed ashore for safety, Minister of Natural Resorces Piper Hanchell said.
Tourism chairman Wayne Garland was text-messaging with two people in Grand Turk during the height of the storm. “They were literally in their bathroom because their roofs were gone,” he said. “Eventually they were rescued.”
In Providenciales, there was flooding, roof damage and downed power lines but no injuries, he said.
“Fortunately, we were able to evacuate most of the people in low-lying areas to shelters, so thankfully I don’t expect to have any injuries. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that that’s the case,” Garland said as he left to assess the damage.
Ten people drowned in Haiti, where Ike’s downpours topped flooding from Hanna, Gustav and Fay. Haitian officials said they had no choice but to open an overflowing dam, inundating more homes and possibly causing lasting damage to key farming areas. The latest deaths raised Haiti’s death toll to 262 from the tropical storms in recent weeks.
Ike’s pelting rains couldn’t have come at a worse time for Haiti. The Mirebalais bridge collapsed in the floods, cutting off the last land route into Gonaives, Agriculture Minister Joanas Gay told state-run Radio Nationale. Half the homes in Gonaives, Haiti’s fourth-largest city, were already under water.
Gay warned residents in the surrounding Artibonite valley to evacuate immediately because an overflowing dam would have to be opened, sending more water into the Gonaives floodplain. And in Gonaives itself, the waters were rising even as aid groups struggled to reach people with little or no access to food or water for days.
Heavy rains also pelted the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s neighbor on the island of Hispaniola, where about 4,000 people were evacuated from northern coastal towns. One man was crushed by a falling tree.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center projected Ike’s eye would strike Cuba’s northern coast Sunday night and possibly hit Havana, the capital of 2 million people with many vulnerable old buildings, by Monday night.
More than 224,000 people are expected to be evacuated before Ike hit in the central-eastern province of Camaguey alone, Cuba’s government said. Foreign tourists were pulled out from vulnerable beach resorts, workers rushed to protect coffee plants and other crops, and plans were under way to distribute food and cooking-oil to disaster areas.
At the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in southeast Cuba, all ferries were secured and beaches were off limits. The military said cells containing the detainees â€” about 255 men suspected of links to the Taliban and al-Qaida â€” are hurricane-proof.
“People have been forewarned for a day,” Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Lamb said. “It’s starting to get breezy.”
Where Ike goes after Cuba was hard to predict, leaving millions from Florida to Mexico worrying where it will strike.
“These storms have a mind of their own,” Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said as tourists and then residents evacuated the Keys along a narrow highway.
In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin prepared for the possibility of more havoc only days after an historic, life-saving evacuation of more than 2 million people from Hurricane Gustav.
“Our citizens are weary and they’re tired and they have spent a lot of money evacuating,” Nagin worried. “It will be very difficult to move the kind of numbers out of this city that we moved during Gustav.”
Off Mexico’s Pacific coast, Tropical Storm Lowell was moving away from land.ap, Voice of a Nation