Hurricane Ike grew to fierce Category 4 strength Saturday as it roared on an uncertain path that forced millions from the Caribbean to Florida, and Louisiana to Mexico, to nervously wonder where it would eventually strike.
Preparations stretched more than 1,000 miles as the massive, 135 mph storm took a southwesterly shift that could send it over Cuba and the Florida Keys by Tuesday before heading into the warm open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. And once again, a possible target was New Orleans and the already storm-weary U.S. Gulf Coast.
“These storms have a mind of their own,” Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said after a meeting with mayors and emergency officials. “There are no rules, so what we have to do is be prepared, be smart, vigilant and alert.”
In Haiti, authorities tried to move thousands of people into shelters ahead of Ike, while they still struggled to recover from Tropical Storm Hanna. Rescue workers feared Hanna's death toll could rise into the hundreds in the flooded city of Gonaives and that aid efforts could be further impeded as Ike approached.
Hanna did not pack the same punch Saturday while racing up the Eastern seaboard, but did cause one death in a traffic accident on Interstate 95 in Maryland. It also brought fits of wind and pelting rain on its trek toward New England.
But Ike is another matter.
Tens of millions of people in countries spread over a swath of the hurricane zone monitored the trajectory of a storm that had a huge footprint, with tropical storm-force winds stretching up to 140 miles from its eye.
Late Saturday, Ike was about 90 miles east of Grand Turk Island and was moving west-southwest at about 15 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
Forecasters said Ike reached Category 4 strength over warm water, its maximum winds increasing to 135 mph Saturday, up from a Category 3 storm packing 115 mph winds hours earlier.
Tourists were urged to leave the Bahamas, and authorities in the Dominican Republic began evacuating dozens of families who live on the banks of a river that could flood with waters from two already overfilled dams.
In Cuba, the island's top meteorologist warned Ike was a “true danger” and government officials began the early phases of emergency preparations. But no alarm was evident in Havana, where the U.S. soccer team was set to play Cuba in a World Cup qualifying match.
In Louisiana, still recovering from last week's Hurricane Gustav, Gov. Bobby Jindal set up a task force to prepare for the possibility of a new round of havoc.
“We're not hoping for another strike, another storm, but we're ready,” he said.
In Florida, batteries, water and gas cans became major commodities, as nearly the entire state appeared within the cone of areas that might be hit.
Jose Calbo planned to fly to Chicago this weekend with his girlfriend, leaving his Miami-area home behind.
“Why be here without power and lights?” he asked. “There is nothing you can do. The best thing you can hope for is to board up the house, empty the freezer.”