Saturday, August 30, 2008

Gustav grows to a Category 4

ReutersHurricane Gustav strengthens near Cuba08.30.08, 2:00 PM ET
United States - * Hurricane Gustav winds climb to 145 mph (230 kph) en route to Cuba
* Storm now Category 4 hurricane on five-step scale
By Jeff Franks
HAVANA, Aug 30 (Reuters) - Hurricane Gustav grew bigger and stronger with 145 mph (230 kph) winds as it roared toward Cuba on Saturday and threatened the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans which was devastated by a similar storm in 2005.
Gustav ripped across the Cayman Islands, closed in on Cuba's Isle of Youth and was set to strike the Cuban mainland.
Forecasters predicted Gustav would cross the Gulf of Mexico and hit central Louisiana on Tuesday with the same force that Hurricane Katrina delivered three years ago.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Gustav revved up as it crossed the warm Caribbean and was a Category 4 storm on the five-stage Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.
Any storm with winds of at least 111 mph (178 kph) is ranked "major" by the Miami-based hurricane center.
"Plain and simple, Gustav is forecast to be a large and powerful hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, headed toward the northern Gulf coast," said Richard Knabb, a senior hurricane specialist a the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Gustav could strengthen further before crossing on Sunday into the Gulf of Mexico, where offshore platforms produce 25 percent of U.S. oil and 15 percent of its natural gas.
Gustav was expected to dump up to 12 inches (30 cm) of rain as it crossed Cuba.
The storm's center was 55 miles (85 km) southeast of the Isle of Youth and 185 miles (295 km) from Cuba's western tip. It was moving north-northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).
Thousands of people moved to shelters where Cuban officials had food ready for distribution and medical teams on alert.
In the western province of Pinar del Rio, workers rushed to move recently harvested crops of Cuban tobacco to safe places.
National flights in Cuba were canceled ahead of the storm. In Havana, people boarded up windows while trucks with loudspeakers passed through the streets warning residents to seek protection.
The storm killed up to 77 people as it crossed the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica. No deaths were reported from the Caymans, a wealthy British banking center.

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