September 7, 2008 in Nation/World

Ike strengthens, shifts toward Cuba, Florida

From Caribbean to Gulf Coast, millions are bracing for hit
By BRIAN SKOLOFF Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Associated Press Vehicles drive north Saturday through the middle Florida Keys under an evacuation order for nonresidents in anticipation of Hurricane Ike.
(Full-size photo)

KEY WEST, Fla. – Hurricane Ike grew to fierce Category 4 strength Saturday as it roared on an uncertain path that forced millions from the Caribbean to Florida, Louisiana to Mexico, to nervously wonder where it would strike.

Preparations stretched more than 1,000 miles as the massive, 135-mph storm took a southwesterly shift that could send it over Cuba near the Florida Keys sometime Monday before heading into the warm open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. A possible target was New Orleans and the already storm-weary U.S. Gulf Coast.

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

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Ike’s large eye punched its way late Saturday “near or over” the low-lying British territory of Turks and Caicos, already pummeled for four days this week by Tropical Storm Hanna.

In Haiti, authorities tried to move thousands of people into shelters ahead of Ike, still struggling to recover from Hanna. Rescue workers feared Hanna’s death toll could rise into the hundreds in the flooded city of Gonaives if Ike dumped more rain.

Hanna did not pack the same punch Saturday while racing up the U.S. Eastern seaboard, but it did cause one traffic accident fatality on Interstate 95 in Maryland. It also brought wind and pelting rain, with some sporadic flooding, all along its trek into New England.

In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Lowell formed late Saturday some 265 miles off Mexico’s southwest coast and could become a hurricane by Monday, the hurricane center said. Forecasters said Lowell could unleash several inches of rain on parts of Mexico before drifting away from its coast.

Ike is another matter.

Tens of millions of people in countries spread over a swath of the hurricane zone monitored the trajectory of a storm that had a huge footprint, with tropical storm-force winds stretching up to 140 miles from its eye.

At 11 p.m. EDT, Ike’s large eye was near or hovering over the Turks and Caicos.

© Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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