Hurricane Ike Nails Cuba, Kills 4

As reported by Brian K. Sullivan and Camilla Hall for Bloomberg.

Sept. 9 (Bloomberg) — Hurricane Ike tore across central Cuba, killing four people and prompting mass evacuations, before heading for the country’s west and the Gulf of Mexico, potentially threatening U.S. oil rigs.

Ike’s eye was over water about 135 kilometers (85 miles) south-southeast of Havana at 5 a.m. Cuba time today, moving west at 20 kph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The system’s sustained winds dropped to 130 kilometers per hour as it moved over land, weakening to Category 1, the lowest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity. The hurricane is forecast to regain strength as it moves over the warm Gulf waters.

“It could be a major hurricane before it gets to the western Gulf Friday and Saturday,” senior meteorologist Paul Walker said today in a telephone interview. “There are certainly going to have to be some precautions taken for the oil rigs in the Gulf.”

Cuban authorities evacuated as many as 2 million people, or almost a fifth of the population, as Ike approached, according to Agence France-Presse. Four people were killed and seven injured, the news agency said.

“It looks like it is going to be the worst hurricane they have had in Cuba for a while,” meteorologist Dave Samuhel said by phone yesterday. “It is going to be a pretty bad situation for them.”

Hit Eastern Cuba

The hurricane made landfall in eastern Cuba at Category 3. A second landfall is likely in the west of the country, forecasters said. International broadcasters televised images of waves crashing over five-story buildings on the north coast as Ike swept ashore two days ago.

Cuba issued a hurricane warning for the provinces of Matanzas, La Habana, Ciudad de Habana, Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth. Tropical-storm warnings were in effect in the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, the center in Miami said. In the Cayman Islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac were under a tropical-storm warning, while Grand Cayman was under a tropical-storm watch.

Ike is forecast to move over the waters between the Isle of Youth and the south coast of Havana province in the next several hours, then move over western Cuba later in the day, the center said. On its current track, the storm’s second landfall in western Cuba will take place today.

Cuba may receive 51 centimeters (20 inches) of rain that could trigger flooding and mudslides, the center said.

Deaths in Haiti

Ike killed 66 people in Haiti, AFP said. At least 600 people were killed when Ike, Hurricane Gustav and two tropical storms either hit the country or passed close by in the past month, AFP said. As many as 600,000 people may need assistance, United Nations humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes said.

Texas Governor Rick Perry issued a disaster declaration yesterday along the coast in preparation for Ike’s landfall.

Ike, coming on the heels of Gustav last week, may keep U.S. oil and gas production in the Gulf closed until at least mid- September. The Gulf is home to more than a quarter of U.S. oil production. The center’s five-day track shows Ike on a course for a U.S. landfall on the southern coast of Texas, west of installations battered by Hurricane Gustav.

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