Louisiana, Florida ready for Ike’s blast
Associated Press Writer
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos (AP) _ Hurricane Ike damaged most of the homes on Grand Turk island as it roared onto the Bahamas, raked Haiti’s flooded cities with rain and threatened the Florida Keys on its way to Cuba as a ferocious Category 4 storm Sunday.
In Louisiana and Florida, people also readied for the blast, as meteorologists at the U.S. National Hurricane Center expected Ike’s eye to move over eastern Cuba Sunday night and into central Cuba by late Monday on a track that will likely take it into the Gulf of Mexico.
“These storms have a mind of their own,” Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said as tourists were ordered out of the vulnerable Florida Keys Saturday. Authorities planned a phased evacuation for residents Sunday morning, starting with the southernmost islands. “What we have to do is be prepared, be smart, vigilant and alert.”
In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal set up a task force to prepare for the possibility of more havoc after getting slammed by Hurricane Gustav. Many who fled New Orleans in advance of that storm have only recently returned.
“People have been forewarned for a day,” Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Lamb said. “It’s starting to get breezy.”
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in southeast Cuba went on “condition of readiness one” early Sunday morning, meaning all ferries were secured, beaches were off limits and private cars were banned from roads at the U.S. base, where some 255 men suspected of links to the Taliban and al-Qaida live in what the military says are hurricane-proof cells.
Turks and Caicos premier Michael Misick said Ike damaged more than 80 percent of the homes on Grand Turk and South Caicos islands. Hundreds lost their roofs and all the fishermen lost boats as the hurricane made a near-direct hit.
Hundreds took refuge in shelters. Others have been cowering in closets and under stairwells and “just holding on for life. They got hit really, really bad,” Misick said Sunday morning. “A lot of people have lost their house, and we will have to see what we can do to accommodate them.”
At 8 a.m. EDT, Ike’s eye was just east of Great Inagua Island in the southeastern Bahamas, with maximum sustained winds of 135 mph (215 kph). It was moving west-southwest at 14 mph (24 kph) and was expected to remain a major hurricane as it approaches eastern Cuba.
“It’s looking terrible,” said reserve police officer Henry Nixon from inside a shelter on the Bahamas’ Great Inagua Island, where about 85 people huddled around a radio. “All we can do is hunker down and pray.”
Great Inagua, which is closer to Haiti than to the Bahamian capital of Nassau, is the southernmost island in the Bahamas archipelago. It has the world’s largest breeding colony of West Indian flamingos, and about 1,000 people.
“Everybody is very concerned because of the strength of this one. They want to make sure they survive,” administrator Preston Cunningham said after authorities went door-to-door urging residents to seek higher ground. All power was cut as a precaution Sunday morning, and about 135 people took refuge in shelters.
Grand Turk, the capital of the tiny British territory of Turks and Caicos, is home to about 3,000 people, and has little natural protection from the sea and expected storm surge of up to 18 feet (5.5 meters). Rain was driving through in horizontal sheets early Sunday and wind was tearing through some roofs. It was too early to know of any deaths or injuries.
The airport in Providenciales closed after thousands of tourists and residents evacuated from the typically tranquil island chain.
Desiree Adams, along with 11 members of her family, could hear the winds through the storm shutters of her Grand Turk home. The power was out, but they had water and food and battery-powered lanterns if necessary.
“We’re all just laying down looking up at the dark ceiling and talking,” Adams, a personal adviser to the island chain’s chief minister for tourism issues, said by mobile phone.
The approach of the hurricane also raised alarm in Haiti, where floods from Tropical Storm Hanna killed at least 167 people by Saturday. Hundreds fled the waterlogged city of Gonaives as Ike approached, and international aid groups were struggling to reach people with little or no access to food or water for days.
“We are very concerned about Ike,” said Holly Inurreta of Catholic Relief Services. “Any bit more of rain and Gonaives will be cut off again.”
Heavy rains also were pelting Haiti’s neighbor on the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic, where about 4,000 people were evacuated from northern coastal towns.
Cuba, which suffered a devastating hit from Gustav, was directly in Ike’s projected path, and warned its people to be ready.
Just ahead of Ike’s arrival, the Bahamas government had urged tourists to evacuate the sparsely populated southeastern islands and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force dispatched marines to bring food and water to the eastern islands of Mayaguana and San Salvador.
Off Mexico’s Pacific coast, Tropical Storm Lowell was moving away from land.
Associated Press writers Mike Melia in Nassau, Bahamas; Jonathan Katz in Gonaives, Haiti; and Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed to this report.
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