Powerful Hurricane Ike Looms as Trouble for Gulf

Powerful Hurricane Ike rolled down an uncertain path Sunday that may lead to the U.S. Gulf Coast late this week, forcing emergency officials to pay attention and leaving millions of people from Florida to Mexico to wonder where it will eventually strike. (Hurricane Ike can be seen in this satellite image taken earlier this weekend as the well-formed hurricane following Hanna toward the United States.)

Officials in the Florida Keys started a phased evacuation for residents Sunday morning after telling visitors a day earlier to get out. Ike, a dangerous Category 4 storm with winds early Sunday of 135 mph, was forecast to affect the Keys starting Monday night on a potential track for the Central Gulf.

Ike roared across the low-lying Turks and Caucus island chain before dawn Sunday as people in the British territory sought refuge in emergency shelters or in their homes (see more below).

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Ike's eye was passing over the Turks and Caicos early Sunday. It was moving west about 15 mph on a path that would take it by the southeastern Bahamas later Sunday and near eastern Cuba Sunday night or early Monday.

"These storms have a mind of their own," Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said after a meeting Saturday with mayors and emergency officials. "There are no rules, so what we have to do is be prepared, be smart, vigilant, and alert."

In Haiti authorities tried to move thousands of people into shelters ahead of Ike while still struggling to recover from a drenching from Tropical Storm Hanna. Rescue workers feared Hanna's death toll could rise into the hundreds in the flooded city of Gonaives if Ike dumped more rain from outer storm bands as the storm rumbled nearby.

In Louisiana, still recovering from last week's Hurricane Gustav, Gov. Bobby Jindal set up a task force to prepare for the possibility of more havoc.

"We're not hoping for another strike, another storm, but we're ready," he said.

Even as Gustav evacuees headed home, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said officials were anxiously monitoring Ike on a projected path toward the Gulf.

"Our citizens are weary and they're tired and they have spent a lot of money evacuating ... from Gustav," he said. He added that if Ike were to threaten, "my expectations this time is, it will be very difficult to move the kind of numbers out of this city that we moved during Gustav."

At 2 a.m. EDT, the center of Ike was over the Turks islands. The storm had sustained winds of 135 mph and even stronger gusts after muscling up from a Category 3 to a Category 4 storm Saturday. It was moving nearly due west at about 15 mph and expected to turn slightly toward the northwest Monday.

"It's a very dangerous storm," hurricane center meteorologist Colin McAdie told The Associated Press. "There's going to be some ups and downs, but we expect it to remain a major hurricane over the next couple days."

Tourists were urged to leave the Bahamas, and authorities in the Dominican Republic began evacuating dozens of families from river banks that could flood because of two already overfilled dams.

Ike damages 80 percent of homes on Grand Turk

In another Associated Press story this morning, Hurricane Ike took a direct hit on the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are British Overseas Territories situated 575 miles southeast of Miami and 39 miles south east of Mayaguana in the Bahamas.

The Premier of the Turks and Caicos, Michael Misick, said Hurricane Ike damaged 80% of the homes on Grand Turk Island.

Misick told the Associated Press by phone that Grand Turk took almost a direct hit and that hundreds of people lost their roofs. He said people were cowering in closets and under stairwells and "just holding on for life. "They got hit really, really bad," he said.

There are no reports of deaths or injuries, but authorities are now trying to rescue people and get them into shelters.

Ike is now raking Haiti and barreling toward the Bahamas and Cuba as a powerful Category 4 storm.

Misick said Sunday that he will fly to Grand Turk once the weather subsides.

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The Associated Press


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