September 10, 2008

Ike Moves on From Cuba and into Gulf


By Anita Snow

The Associated Press


Hurricane Ike moved into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and took aim at the U.S. and Mexican coasts Tuesday after bringing down aging buildings in Havana and tearing through western Cuba's tobacco country.

Forecasters said Ike, which has killed at least 80 people in the Caribbean, could strengthen into a massive Category 3 storm before slamming into Texas or Mexico this weekend.

About 1.2 million people - more than a tenth of Cuba's population - sought refuge from Ike, which killed four people and shredded hundreds of homes as it barreled across the island.

Winds howled and rains lashed the empty streets of Havana as towering waves broke over the seaside Malecon promenade, devoid of the bustling crowds of Havana residents who normally fish and chat by day and drink and socialize at night. Navigation was banned in Havana Bay, its usually placid surface stirred up by white-capped waves.

Police braved the storm to stop all but emergency traffic in streets littered with branches, rocks and the rubble from crumbling balconies.

The heavy rains soaked the buildings of Havana's picturesque older areas, causing some of the more dilapidated to collapse. Four aging houses on a single block were reduced to rubble when their walls came tumbling down with a loud boom, and work crews labored with heavy machinery in the strong winds to clear the rubble from the street.

Collapsing buildings were reported throughout the city, and more were probable in coming days as the structures dry out and weaken. All of the buildings appeared to have been evacuated, and no injuries were reported.

State television said reservoir levels in the western province of Pinar del Rio were dangerously close to overflowing and flooding nearby communities .

Originally published by BY ANITA SNOW.

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