HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) — Hurricane Ike tore across Cuba with 100-mph winds Monday, sending 50-foot waves crashing over buildings and forcing the evacuation of 900,000 people.
Fallen bricks crushed a van Monday in Camaguey, Cuba, as Hurricane Ike struck the island.
At 2 p.m., Ike’s eye had moved back over water off Cuba’s southern coast. Ike was a Category 2 hurricane, with steady 100-mph (160-kph) winds and higher gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.
Ike’s eye is expected to move back over Cuba on Tuesday, then move into the Gulf of Mexico and grow again in intensity.
But forecasters said it is too soon to know where Ike might hit along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Monroe County, Florida, which includes the Florida Keys, said its mandatory evacuation order for residents expired as of noon Monday. But officials advised the 18,000 residents who left not to return until Wednesday, when any tropical winds from Ike’s outer bands would have passed and essential services would have been fully restored.
The storm weakened slightly after first reaching Cuba late Sunday as a Category 3 hurricane.
At 2 p.m. ET, the eye of Ike was 80 miles (130 kilometers) west-southwest of Camaguey, Cuba, moving to the west at 14 mph (22 kph) and expected to head over or near central Cuba, the hurricane center said. Watch Ike slam Cuba »
Waves as high as 50 feet crashed ashore at Baracoa, Cuba, southeast of where Ike made landfall Sunday night. At least 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed as the sea surge moved into the city, witnesses said.
Residents on the western half of the island are scrambling to get necessities before the worst of the storm hits, CNN’s Morgan Neill reported from Havana, where winds were picking up and water was becoming choppy Monday morning. Watch how Havana gets ready for Ike »
In Varadero, a hugely popular tourist resort on the country’s northern central coast, 9,000 tourists were evacuated ahead of Ike’s arrival.
Officials predicted the storm — coming nine days after Hurricane Gustav — could have a devastating effect on the small country’s economy.
Nickel mines and sugar plantations as well as the tourist trade will suffer from the heavy rains and wind.
In the Turk and Caicos Islands, furious wind, rain and the sea surge destroyed or damaged at least 90 percent of the homes on Grand Turk, the capital, according to journalist Audley Astwood.
“It pretty much looks like an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone,'” Astwood said. “It’s like the end of the world.”
He said 40 percent of the island, including all roads, was flooded.
Astwood said he and many others will sleep in their cars because their homes have no roofs or power.
“This is definitely similar to Katrina in New Orleans or worse,” Astwood said. “It’s going to take years to bring this island back to the way it was.”
At least 73 people in Haiti were killed Sunday by rains and flooding from Ike.
The hurricane’s eye never touched Haiti, but the storm system did bring heavy rains and winds.
Jean Pierre Guiteau, executive director for the Red Cross in Haiti, said 52 people were killed when a river burst its banks in the mountain town of Cabaret, not far from the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Guiteau said those people either died in their homes or as they tried to flee surging floodwaters. Another 10 people were missing in the town and 22 people were injured.
Another 21 bodies — presumably those of fishermen — were pulled from the sea at Fort-Liberté, Haiti, close to the border with the Dominican Republic.
“It’s a very grim picture,” Guiteau said. “Things certainly are getting no better.”
Sunday’s death toll can be added to at least 167 who are reported to have died in Haiti as a result of Hurricane Gustav and Tropical Storm Hanna.
At 11 a.m., the government of Cuba issued a hurricane warning for the western provinces of La Habana, Ciudad de Habana, Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth.
Hurricane warnings remain in effect for the provinces of Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba, Holguin, Las Tunas and Granma, Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Villa Clara, Sancti Spiritus, Cienfuegos and Matanzas.
A hurricane watch and tropical storm warning are in effect for the western Cuban provinces of La Habana, Ciudad de La Habana, Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth.
A tropical storm watch is in effect for Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
A tropical storm warning is also in effect for the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef southward to the Dry Tortugas, meaning that tropical storm conditions are expected in that area in the next 24 hours.
The latest hurricane center track map indicated the greatest chances for a U.S. landfall for Ike would be as a Category 3 storm near the Texas-Louisiana border on Saturday.
While authorities evacuated the Florida Keys during the weekend in case Ike’s path veered northward, President Bush issued an emergency declaration to allow federal agencies to mobilize in Florida.
The possibility of such damage prompted state and local officials in Florida and Louisiana to prepare for what may be the third major storm to affect the Gulf Coast region in less than a month. iReport.com: Fleeing the Keys as Ike nears
“Like I told you before Gustav, let’s hope it’s all a false alarm,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said.
He pre-emptively issued a state of emergency for Louisiana, which is still recovering from Hurricane Gustav. More than 370,000 people remain without power in the state, nearly a week after Gustav made landfall, he said.
“There continues to be much uncertainty about [Ike’s] predicted track,” he said.
While Ike’s passage over Cuba is certain to weaken the storm, the forecast calls for the storm to recover its strength in the Gulf of Mexico.
Sept. 08, 2008