Ike becomes major hurricane over Caribbean

September 4th, 2008 - 2:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Miami, Sep 4 (DPA) Hurricane Ike has become a strong hurricane, as another storm pummelled parts of the Caribbean, and Louisiana residents began to return to their homes in the wake of Hurricane Gustav.Hurricane Ike, currently located about 980 km east-northeast of the Leeward Islands, gained strength quickly Wednesday and was upgraded to a major category 4 storm late in the evening after beginning the day as a tropical storm, the National Hurricane Centre said.

It had sustained winds of 215 km per hour and was expected to move over open waters in the west-central Atlantic over the next several days, forecasters at the centre said. It was too soon to tell whether any land would be threatened.

Ike is following close on the heels of Tropical Storm Hanna, which was dropped from hurricane to tropical storm status and was aiming for the southeast Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the centre said. Hanna was about 260 km from San Salvador, Bahamas at O3OO GMT Thursday and was expected to reach the central or northwest Bahamas in the next few days.

Hanna was blamed for at least 19 deaths in Haiti and sent thousands in the Dominican Republic fleeing for refuge Wednesday from the third storm in just a week.

Another storm, Josephine, had weakened over the eastern Atlantic about 605 km west of the Cape Verde Islands.

Florida Governor Charlie Christ said his state could be hit by one of the storms over the coming days and urged residents to “get their “hurricane supplies stocked up”.

“You need to have a plan,” he said in televised remarks.

In the US state of Louisiana, clean-up efforts and restoration efforts were underway after Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast Monday. Twelve US deaths were blamed on the storm, after it had swept devastation across the Caribbean, hitting Cuba particularly hard and causing more than 80 deaths in the region.

New Orleans escaped major damage, but the state, including the jazz city, still had nearly one million people without power and tens of thousands without water Wednesday.

Giving in to the huge traffic jams of some of the 1.9 million people who evacuated over the weekend, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin lifted traffic blockades hours before the previously-set deadline of midnight, according to the Times Picayune newspaper online.

“No one will be turned back if you have an identification card that you live in this area,” Nagin was quoted as saying in a radio interview. “This is not the best time for them to return, but so be it.”

Surrounding suburban parishes had already lifted blockades by early Wednesday morning.

Hurricane Gustav narrowly missed New Orleans, and hit the Gulf Coast with reduced force, sparing the region damage on the scale of Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in 2005.

The state also postponed congressional primaries that had been set for Saturday.

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