Strengthening Gustav rips through Cuba (Lead)

August 31st, 2008 - 12:30 am ICT by IANS  

Havana, Aug 30 (DPA) Hurricane Gustav continued its destructive path through the Caribbean Saturday, reaching Cuba as weather forecasters warned that the storm could strengthen yet further. The Cuban News Agency (ACN) reported that officials in the low-lying western provinces, where more than 60,000 people had been evacuated as the storm approached overnight, were moving to assess damage. No reports of casualty levels were immediately available.

Officials from the Cuban National Weather Institute warned the provinces of Habana, Ciudad de La Habana and Matanzas in the west of the country to be on high alert as the storm continued through the country.

The hurricane had strengthened into a “major” category three storm as it neared the Cuban coast, and there were fears it could develop into a category four storm with winds of over 200 km an hour.

On Saturday morning the US Hurricane Centre in Miami warned that Gustav had already reached wind speeds of 195 km an hour.

Cuban President Raul Castro said Saturday morning that all preparations had been taken to protect the population from the effects of the hurricane.

Gustav has already claimed at least 59 lives in Haiti, eight in the Dominican Republic and four in Jamaica. The hurricane’s path was expected later to include the Gulf of Mexico, where workers have been evacuated from several rigs.

In Jamaica, around 4,000 people are in need of emergency accommodation. Heavy damage has been sustained to infrastructure across the country, with roads, bridges and electricity affected.

US authorities are bracing for the possibility that the storm could hit the states of Louisiana and Mississippi with full force, three years after the devastating hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Thousands of residents of the US Gulf Coast have already evacuated their homes ahead of the approaching storm. US President George W. Bush has announced a state of emergency in Louisiana and Texas, making federal disaster funding available.

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