September 8, 2008

Ike Pounds Cuba

Hurricane Ike lost some punch as it crossed Cuba but forecasters Monday said the Gulf of Mexico's environment could lead to the storm's strengthening.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Ike, downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane with top winds of 105 mph, was about 45 miles east-southeast of Camaguey, Cuba, moving west at about 14 mph, at 11 a.m.

Forecasters warned of dangerous rip currents in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the storm surge. The storm was expected to restrengthen once it is back in open water.

A tropical storm warning was issued for the Florida Keys. State authorities evacuated the Florida Keys during the weekend as a precaution, and U.S. President George Bush issued an emergency declaration to allow federal agencies to mobilize in Florida.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal issued a state of emergency for Louisiana, which is recovering from Hurricane Gustav.

In Haiti, government officials said Ike killed at least 61 people, The Miami Herald said. The total death toll from back-to-back storms was more than 300, officials said Sunday.

Haiti's President Rene Preval told the Herald his government ''has made a huge effort'' to provide assistance. He said that plans were under way to send money to the country's 142 municipalities but officials need help getting food to storm victims.

"This is Katrina in the entire country but without the means that Louisiana had," Preval said.

The U.S. and Venezuelan governments said Sunday they would provide relief.