Hurricane Ike Rampages Across Cuba, Threatens Gulf Coast - NBC Chicago

Hurricane Ike Rampages Across Cuba, Threatens Gulf Coast



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    MIAMI, Florida, September 8, 2008 (ENS) - The state of Florida has received an emergency declaration from President Bush to assist Monroe County which is currently evacuating residents from the Florida Keys in advance of Hurricane Ike, Governor Charlie Crist announced today.

    "Florida is facing a dangerous threat from Hurricane Ike," said Governor Crist. "We remain grateful to the president and our federal partners for this vital assistance to our local and state responders."

    The declaration provides for financial assistance for emergency protective measures that Monroe County and state agencies have taken to ensure the public health and safety and property of Keys residents during this storm.

    Sunday's mandatory resident evacuation order for Hurricane Ike, set to expire at noon today, will not be extended, Keys officials said this morning. A steady stream of cars left the Keys over the weekend, but many people stayed put, suffering from hurricane fatigue after three previous storms in the past month - Fay, Gustav, and Hanna.

    The current track of Hurricane Ike takes the core of the storm well south and west of the Keys and sustained hurricane force winds should miss the island chain, meteorologists at the National Weather Service Key West office said.

    "It is still much too soon to know what portions of the Gulf Coast could be impacted by Ike," according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

    Still, on Sunday Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal issued a declaration of a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Ike.

    "Hurricane Ike may impact the coastal parishes of Louisiana with hurricane strength winds, wave surges, high tides, torrential rain and tornado activity," the governor declared.

    "The storm may make landfall on the Louisiana coast on or about September 13, 2008, with the expectation that hurricane force winds will reach the Louisiana coast prior to landfall," he declared.

    A hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning continues for the entire Florida Keys, from Ocean Reef through the Dry Tortugas.

    The outer bands of Ike may begin effecting the Florida Keys this afternoon, meteorologists said, bringing wind and rain as the storm continues to cross southern Cuba.

    Ike made its landfall on eastern Holguin province Sunday evening as a category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Ike is currently hitting the eastern Cuban province of Camaguey on its way to the central part of the island.

    Preliminary information from the Cuban News Agency in Holguin reveals a large number of fallen trees; no deaths have been reported in the areas which Ike has hit. In Camaguey, the storm has damaged tourist facilities in Santa Lucia Beach, and caused sea flooding along the northeastern section of the province.

    Forecasters anticipate the Lower Keys and Key West will experience sustained minimal to moderate tropical storm force winds beginning late tonight and for most of Tuesday. In the Upper and Middle Keys winds should be just below tropical storm force.

    Monroe County Sheriff's Office officials urged those who have stayed in the Keys to remain inside during the storm. Driving on flooded streets may disable cars and being outside can be very risky with flying debris and downed live power lines, they said.

    U.S. Coast Guard officials stress that boaters should remain in port, warning that, "Rough bay waters and extremely dangerous offshore seas can make boating deadly during storms."

    Ocean swells from Ike will impact Florida's east coast today, forecasters say. A high risk of strong and frequent rip currents are expected along the east central and southeast Florida coast with a moderate threat of rip currents along northeast Florida beaches.

    Numerous flood warnings are in effect for rivers across the state.

    Hurricane Ike moved inland over eastern Cuba last night and early this morning was located over central Cuba, about 365 miles southeast of Key West. Maximum sustained winds have decreased to near 105 miles per hour, making Ike a Category 2 hurricane.

    Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center say Ike is moving west around 15 mph, and is expected to continue on a west to west-northwest track across Cuba today and tonight before emerging into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday afternoon then moving northwest into the central Gulf waters.

    At this time, tropical storm force winds extend outwards to 200 miles from the center and hurricane force winds extend outwards to 60 miles.

    A reconnaissance aircraft will provide a better estimate of Ike's intensity this afternoon, the Hurricane Center said.

    In about two days, Ike is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico and travel over warmer waters, where forecasters say some restrengthening is possible.

    The Department of Interior's Mineral Management Service reports 202 production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico evacuated for Hurricane Gustav last week, are still not staffed, nearly one-third of the 717 manned platforms in the Gulf. MMS estimated approximately 80 percent of oil production and approximately 70 percent of natural gas production in the Gulf remains shut-in with safety valves closed below the surface of the ocean.

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