Ike becomes Category 4

September 6, 2008 9:45:33 PM PDT
Hurricane Ike slammed into the Turks and Caicos on Saturday as a ferocious Category 4 storm, raking the low-lying island chain with shrieking winds as people hunkered down at home or in emergency shelters. As the massive gray wall of clouds descended on the islands, shopkeepers and homeowners in the city of Providenciales frantically covered windows with plywood and boats were hauled ashore or secured with multiple anchors.

"I am very, very nervous," said John Moore, a fishing boat captain, as he tied down his 61-foot vessel in a Providenciales cove. "It looks like it might go right over us, so that's not a good picture."

The outer-bands of the storm brought fierce, palm-bending winds and a scattering of rain. Still, people lingered in the darkened streets or outside a couple of convenience stores that stayed open for last-minute shoppers. People entered into a makeshift shelter in a vocational school in the Five Cays neighborhood.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Ike's eye was "near or over" the Turks and Caicos late Saturday night. The center's Web site showed hurricane force winds from Ike battering the island. It was moving west-southwest about 15 mph with winds near 135 mph. Its path would take it by the southeastern Bahamas early Sunday and near eastern Cuba Sunday night or early Monday.

Ike appeared headed for the Gulf of Mexico after that. In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal set up a task force to prepare for the possibility of more havoc, while Floridians stocked up on batteries, water and gas cans.

In the Turks and Caicos, Desiree Adams and 11 family members could hear the storm's powerful winds howling through the storm shutters of her Grand Turk home. The power was out, but they had water and food and battery-powered lanterns if necessary.

"We're all just laying down looking up at the dark ceiling and talking," Adams, a personal adviser to the island chain's chief minister for tourism issues, said by cell phone.

Grand Turk, the capital of the Turks and Caicos, is about six miles long, and home to about 3,000 people. Several hundred evacuated before the storm. It has little natural protection from the sea and expected storm surge, but Adams said she and her family were not afraid.

"We live by faith here," she said. "We believe in Jesus Christ so a lot of praying is going forth. There is going to be damage, no doubt, to infrastructure but that we can replace over time."

The approach of the hurricane also raised alarm in Haiti, where officials issued a tropical storm warning and feared it could worsen deadly flooding. And Cuba, still recovering from a devastating hit by Category 4 Hurricane Gustav last month, was directly in Ike's projected path.

Cuba's government warned people to be ready to take emergency action, but hotels said they had not yet started evacuating foreign guests.

Guantanamo Bay Navy base in southeast Cuba will go on "condition of readiness one" at 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT), meaning all ferries will be secured, beaches will be off limits and private cars will be banned from roads, said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Lamb.

Lamb said the commander will lift the restrictions after the hurricane has passed and a damage assessment is made at the U.S. base, where some 255 men suspected on links to the Taliban and al-Qaida in what the military says are hurricane-proof cells.

Turks and Caicos Premier Michael Misick said his government opened shelters throughout the islands and brought in an emergency food shipment.

"We're still praying that the storm will make a northerly turn and we will be spared, even a little bit," Misick told The Associated Press.

Low-lying Turks and Caicos and the neighboring Bahamas are vulnerable to flooding from rain and storm surge.

Turks and Caicos, a British territory, was pummeled for four days by Hurricane Hanna earlier this week. It caused widespread flooding and some damage, but did far worse when it drifted toward Haiti as a tropical storm, creating floods that had killed 167 people.

In the Bahamas, the government urged tourists to evacuate the sparsely populated southeastern islands and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force dispatched marines to bring food and water to the eastern islands of Mayaguana and San Salvador.

Off Mexico's Pacific coast, Tropical Storm Lowell formed late Saturday with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph). Lowell's center was 265 miles (430 kms) south-southwest of Manzanillo, Mexico.

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Associated Press writer Mike Melia contributed from Nassau, Bahamas.


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