Hurricane Ivan, after killing at least 68 people in the Caribbean, appeared set to turn to the northwest Monday morning, putting it on a track that might spare Cuba from its full force while threatening the Gulf Coast between Florida's Panhandle and Louisiana, where it could land by early Thursday.
Ivan's track prompted authorities at Louisiana's busy oil port to make plans for halting the offloading of tankers. Emergency officials in several Panhandle counties were expected to decide Monday whether to order evacuations from rural fishing villages and beach communities.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said in advisories Monday that "hurricane watches may be required" for portions of the U.S. Gulf Coast later in the day.
In the Florida Keys, to the east, officials lifted the evacuation order imposed last week in anticipation of a direct hit. A tropical storm watch remained in effect there.
At 5 p.m., Ivan's eye was about 30 miles south of the western tip of Cuba and moving toward the northwest at about 9 mph. Hurricane force winds extended outward about 115 miles.
While still packing Category 5 power, with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, the hurricane center said Ivan could lose some of its force if and when it reaches the U.S. mainland but would nevertheless remain extremely dangerous.
Ivan, the strongest storm in the Caribbean in a decade, blasted the Cayman Islands on Sunday with 150 mph winds, uprooting trees, ripping off roofs and causing widespread flooding in the offshore banking center.
All three of the British colony's islands lost electricity, an airport runway was submerged, and nearly every house lost all or part of its roof as the storm pounded the Caymans, news agencies reported. There were no confirmed reports of casualties, however.
Parts of Grand Cayman, the largest island in the territory inhabited by 45,000 people, were reported to be swamped under 8 feet of water Monday, and residents stood on rooftops of flooded homes as cars and boats floated by, according to news service reports.
Ivan weakened somewhat before hitting the Caymans but strengthened once again as it made its way toward western Cuba. In Cuba, the official Prensa Latina news agency reported that about 800,000 people, out of a population of 11 million, had been evacuated and taken shelter away from the western parts of the island.
The center of the storm was reported heading toward the Yucatan Channel between Cuba and Mexico, possibly sparing Cuba the agricultural damage it had feared.
"It's going through the channel, Cuban President Fidel Castro said during a tour of western Cuba, the Reuters news agency reported. "That's very courteous."
Cuba has suffered severe damage from hurricanes in the past three years. Hurricane Michelle did $1.9 billion in damage in 2001 and the following year the back-to-back storms Isidore and Lili did a total of more than $700 million in damage. Last month, Hurricane Charley hit Cuba before it smashed into Florida, causing $1 billion in damage, destroying or damaging 70,000 homes and killing four people, according to the official newspaper Granma.
While the forecast eased the worries of the storm-jostled towns of Florida's Gulf Coast, repair crews were working to restore electricity to hundreds of thousands of people still without power since Hurricane Frances came ashore Sept. 4. Gov. Jeb Bush has warned that the recovery from Ivan could be equally arduous.
"It won't be quick and it won't be without pain," he said Sunday.
In the wake of Ivan, Jamaicans awoke Sunday feeling thankful that they had not suffered the full fury of a direct strike. But they also began to realize that Jamaica, like Grenada, had suffered damage that officials said would surely reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
At least 19 Jamaicans were killed by Ivan, including a father and three children who died when a retaining wall collapsed on their house near Kingston on Saturday night.
Grenada suffered the highest casualties, with 37 storm-related deaths reported on the island. In addition, four people were reported killed in Venezuela, four in the Dominican Republic, three in Haiti and one in Tobago.
On Sunday, Kingston's downtown was filled with the sounds of chain saws and machetes hacking up thousands of trees blown down like twigs by Ivan's high winds. Heavily armed police officers patrolled the streets to prevent further looting; officials said five police officers had been wounded and two looters shot to death since Ivan struck.
Prime Minister Percival J. Patterson told reporters that Venezuela and Mexico had agreed to send relief supplies and that members of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) were considering a special meeting to discuss help for countries hit by Ivan. Patterson previously said Britain, Canada and the United States had promised emergency aid.
As with Grenada, where officials are still assessing what Prime Minister Keith Mitchell described as "beyond any imagination," the extent of damage to Jamaica was just beginning to come into focus. Roads to some parts of the country were still impassable and communications were spotty in some areas. Sunday was the first day when howling winds had subsided enough to allow officials in airplanes and helicopters to begin making a more comprehensive and systematic assessment of the damage.
"What I've seen is a total disaster," Lenworth Blake, a member of the Jamaican Parliament representing the southwestern parish of St. Elizabeth, said in a radio interview. Blake estimated that 85 percent of the houses in the southeastern part of his parish had been severely damaged.
St. Elizabeth and the other western sections of Jamaica were hit harder than Kingston by Ivan, which skirted the southern coast before turning toward the Caymans. The western end of the island was still being battered by high waves, hurricane-strength winds and driving rains Sunday morning, when a hot sun began filtering through the remaining clouds hanging over the capital.
While many Jamaicans were giving thanks that their island had been spared a direct hit, residents of the Caribbean Terrace neighborhood of Kingston returned to their homes late Saturday and Sunday and found barely imaginable scenes of devastation. The development of 78 bungalow homes sits directly on the seafront, not far from the airport in the Harbour View neighborhood. At least 10 of them, those closest to the sea, had been smashed into rubble by Ivan, which destroyed an eight-foot stone-and-concrete seawall before pulverizing them.
"Everything is gone," said Andre Kong, 45, as he stood in the smashed shell of the house where he had been raised and stared through a door frame at a pile of debris, wood, mangled metal, sand and rocks where his bedroom had been. "I used to sleep here, mon," he said. "This is shocking."
A couch that had been in his living room sat upside down in the street about 150 yards away, near a twisted refrigerator, toys, tables and clothes that had also been washed out of houses by the storm's massive surges.
Kong said the property was not insured, and its loss would be a major financial blow to the family. He said they would not rebuild the house, even though it had been in the family since 1969.
Kong is a government fisheries official who has extensively studied the sea, currents, tides and storm surges. "The sea is my life," he said. "But I just could not imagine that it could do this."
Barbash reported from Washington. Staff writers Manuel Roig-Franzia in Miami Beach and Manny Fernandez in Key West contributed to this report.