Havana Braces For Damage as Ike Lashes Cuba

By Anita Snow
Associated Press
Tuesday, September 9, 2008

HAVANA, Sept. 8 -- Hurricane Ike roared down Cuba's spine Monday and toward the island's densely populated capital, Havana, after ravaging homes and forcing 1.2 million people to evacuate. U.S. residents from Florida to Texas braced for Ike's next wallop.

Ike, which raked the Bahamas and worsened floods in Haiti that have killed at least 312 people, made landfall on Cuba as a fearsome Category 3 hurricane, then weakened as it ran along the length of the Caribbean's largest island.

"This critter was angry, really angry," Delia Oliveras, 64, said in the central city of Camaguey. Winds tore the roof from the living room where her family was huddled, and they fled to a covered patio. "We have seen hurricanes, but never as big as this."

State television reported that Ike killed four people in Cuba -- the first storm deaths on the island in the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.

"I have never seen anything like it in my life. So much force is terrifying," said Olga Alvarez, 70, huddling in her living room in Camaguey with her husband and teenage grandson. "We barely slept last night. It was just 'boom, boom, boom.' "

Cuba, which has carried out well-executed evacuations over the years, ordered people to seek safety from the storm with friends and relatives or at government shelters, state television reported.

In Havana, where the hurricane was expected to unleash heavy winds and rain by Tuesday morning, authorities closed schools and government offices.

Ike produced waves that crashed into five-story apartment buildings, hurling heavy spray over their rooftops, and winds that uprooted trees.

More than 1,000 homes were damaged, including 300 destroyed, when Ike first made landfall in Cuba in the easternmost coastal city of Baracoa, said Luis Torres, president of the Civil Defense Council in Guantanamo province.

The Cuban news agency AIN reported damage to several historic structures, including the 200-year-old fortress of La Punta, built near Cuba's eastern tip to protect against pirates. Sixteen-foot waves damaged the 18th-century seawall of Baracoa, it said.

A few street signs were toppled at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, and power went out temporarily in some residential areas, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Lamb said. But no injuries were reported, and the military said that cells containing about 250 detainees suspected of links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda are hurricane-proof.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned that Ike could make landfall in the United States over the weekend near the Texas-Louisiana border. Governors of both states warned their residents to get ready.

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