September 13, 2008 at 5:12 am #29132
Hurricane Ike grew stronger as it barreled across the warm, energizing waters of the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday toward the Texas coast after crashing through Cuba’s tobacco country and toppling aging Havana buildings.
Forecasters said the Category 1 storm could grow into a major Category 3 storm before slamming into Texas or northern Mexico on Saturday.
Ike has already killed at least 80 people in the Caribbean, and Texas put 7,500 National Guard members on standby and urged coastal residents to stock up on supplies.
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management agency still was uncertain about the timing of evacuations along the coast.
Cuban state television said some 2.6 million people – nearly a fourth of the island’s population – sought refuge from Ike, which killed four people and shredded hundreds of homes as it swept across the country. Power was still spotty in Havana on Wednesday morning.
On Havana’s Malecon coastal highway, crews tried to rescue an elderly man from beneath a pile of rubble outside his apartment building.
Firefighter Lt. Col. Rolando Menendez said the man, still believed to be alive, returned to his seaside home without official approval and a concrete piece of the building’s fourth floor slipped loose and fell on him.
As it left Cuba, Hurricane Ike delivered a punishing blow to towns such as Los Palacios, which already suffered a direct hit from a Category-4 Hurricane Gustav on Aug. 30.
In a poor neighborhood along the train tracks, the combined fury of Ike and Gustav left nearly two-thirds of the wooden homes leveled or without roofs.
“The first one left me something, but this one left me nothing,” said Olga Atiaga, a 53-year-old housewife. Gustav obliterated her roof and some walls. Then Ike blew away a mattress and smashed the kitchen sink.
“I don’t even have anything to sleep on,” she said.
Odalis Cruz, a 45-year-old housing inspector, said she evacuated to a shelter in the town’s rice mill when it became clear Ike was following Gustav’s path through Pinar del Rio, the westernmost province where Cuba produces tobacco used in its famous cigars.
She surveyed the damage to her home Tuesday.
“We repaired the roof two days ago and this one took the new one,” she said. “I’m ready to move to Canada! We have spent eight days drying out things, cleaning everything, sleeping on the floor, and now we are hit again.”
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