September 10, 2008

Hurricane Ike Batters Havana and Heads for Texas

HURRICANE Ike moved across the Gulf of Mexico today heading towards Texas after toppling ageing Havana buildings in Cuba.

Forecasters said the Category-1 storm was strengthening over open waters and could grow to a massive Category-3 storm before slamming into Texas, northern Mexico or western Louisiana.

Ike has already killed at least 80 people in the Caribbean. Texas put 7,500 National Guard members on standby and urged coastal residents to stock up on supplies.

Cuban state television said some 2.6 million people - nearly a quarter of the island's population - sought refuge from Ike, which killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes.

As it left Cuba, Hurricane Ike delivered a blow to towns such as Los Palacios, which already suffered a direct hit from a Category-4 Hurricane Gustav on August 30. Gustav damaged at least 100,000 homes but did not kill anyone due to massive evacuations.

Cubans were ordered to evacuate for Ike as well, with those in low-lying or wooden homes seeking safety with friends or relatives in sturdier structures. Others were taken to government shelters.

Early today, Ike was located 100 miles from the western tip of Cuba. Maximum sustained winds were 80mph.

Meanwhile, tropical storm Lowell was off Mexico's Pacific coast, expected to reach the Baja California Peninsula today or tomorrow and emerge over the Gulf of California. It had maximum sustained winds of 45mph, but was expected to weaken before hitting land.

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