MIAMI, Florida (CNN) — Hurricane Ike moved past the southern Bahamas on Sunday, carrying high winds and heavy rain as the Category 4 storm surged forward on a track that could take it toward the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Obenson Etienne walks to his house Sunday in Providenciales, one of the isles in the Turks and Caicos.
The possibility prompted state and local officials in Florida and Louisiana to prepare for what may be the third major storm to affect the Gulf Coast in less than a month.
“Let’s hope it’s all a false alarm,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Sunday as he pre-emptively issued a state of emergency. His state is still recovering from Hurricane Gustav; more than 370,000 people there are still without power, nearly a week after Gustav made landfall, he said.
“There continues to be much uncertainty about the predicted track,” he said of Ike.
On Sunday, President Bush declared a state of emergency in Florida. The hurricane’s outer bands could start affecting the Florida Keys by Monday afternoon.
Residents of the Lower Florida Keys and Key West were ordered to evacuate beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday, and evacuation for the Upper Keys and mainland Monroe County will begin at 4 p.m., a statement on the county Web site said. Tourists were told to leave Saturday.
About 15,000 tourists left the area after the Saturday order to evacuate, Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson said as a hurricane watch was issued for the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef southward.
“We understand the inconvenience to the residents, to the tourists, to the businesses,” Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said. “But this one is just too close, folks. It’s just too close to say, ‘Bunker down and we’ll be OK.’ ” Watch how Haiti is bracing for Ike »
At 2 p.m. Sunday, Ike had sustained winds near 135 mph (217 kph), with higher gusts. Its center was just west of Great Inagua Island and about 90 miles northeast of Guantanamo, Cuba.
The storm was moving westward at about 13 mph, and forecasters expect it to continue on that track and turn west-northwest Monday.
“On this track, the core of the hurricane will move through the southeastern Bahamas this morning and move near or over eastern Cuba tonight, and near or over central Cuba late Monday,” the hurricane center said Sunday.
The Turks and Caicos Islands were battered by “fierce winds” as Ike passed over Sunday morning, but the storm seemed to become more tame by sunrise.
“The worst is over, it appears,” said Audley Astwood, a reporter at a radio station in Grand Turk. “The damage is pretty huge.” Watch as Astwood describes the devastation »
Peering out a window, he reported during a Sunday phone interview that “it looks very dismal outside.”
Emergency officials estimated 50 percent of the homes on Grand Turk have been destroyed or have lost roofs, but the full extent of damage is not known, Astwood said. His home lost its roof, he said, and his family was huddled in a bathroom.
Ike has raised fears about flooding, as rain from Tropical Storm Hanna saturated the ground when it struck last week, he said.
The threat of flooding also loomed in Haiti, as the storm passed just north of Hispaniola — the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Watch how the death toll and floodwaters have risen »
The island could see 6 to 12 inches of rain with isolated maximum amounts of up to 20 inches possible, the hurricane center said.
“These rains will likely cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides over mountainous terrain,” the center said.
The Caribbean has already endured three storms — Tropical Storm Hanna, Hurricane Gustav and Tropical Storm Fay — over the past month, and Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, lost 79 people to Gustav, days before Hanna passed by last week, a government official said.
The Haitian civil protection department said Saturday that the death toll from Hanna had reached 167.
Hurricane warnings remained for the Turks and Caicos Islands, parts of the Bahamas and parts of Cuba. Sections of central Cuba are under a hurricane watch, the hurricane center said. Watch residents flood the supermarket »
Ike’s passage over Cuba is expected to weaken the storm, but computer models suggest it will reintensify once it enters the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the hurricane center said.
The center’s long-range tracking map, which only forecasts a path five days ahead, places Ike in the central Gulf, about 200 miles south of New Orleans. The map has been steadily revised over the past several days to place Ike on a more southerly course over Cuba. iReport.com: Fleeing the Keys as Ike nears
However, hurricane movements are erratic and difficult to predict, and the center’s “cone of uncertainty” includes sections of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, at a news conference Saturday, urged residents to begin evacuating the Florida Keys Sunday morning.
“We continue to watch with much concern the track of Hurricane Ike,” Crist said. “Ike has grown rapidly into a dangerous storm.” Watch Crist warn about ‘a dangerous storm’ »
Miami-Dade County has not issued an evacuation order and has not opened shelters, Mayor Carlos Alvarez said Sunday, noting that plans are subject to change.
Evacuations in Monroe County were expected to last until Monday, the county said. A statement on the county’s Web site said that once the evacuation effort begins, the county will not be lifting two drawbridges, over Snake and Jewfish creeks, for boats. The drawbridges will remain closed so as not to impede vehicles evacuating, the statement said.
Crist declared a state of emergency Friday in case Ike makes landfall on Florida’s southeast coast. The declaration allows officials to pre-position supplies such as drinking water and ready-to-eat meals near vulnerable areas.
Sep. 07, 2008