Florida Keys residents sighed in relief Monday as a fierce Hurricane Ike turned west on a path away from the low-lying island chain. But Gulf Coast states watched anxiously to see whether the storm was gunning for them instead.
National Hurricane Center forecasters warned that, after passing into the Gulf of Mexico tonight, Ike could make landfall in the U.S. over the weekend near the Texas-Louisiana border, possibly near Houston.
In Louisiana, where thousands remain powerless after Hurricane Gustav last week, Gov. Bobby Jindal urged residents to stockpile supplies. The state also readied shelters and made plans for trains, buses and planes in case of a coastal evacuation.
“It is still too early to be evacuating certainly, but it is not too early to be making sure you've got food and water and batteries. It's not too early to be checking your car,” the governor said.
With the storm on a new track, Keys officials let an evacuation order expire Monday. Ike is still set to deliver heavy rain and wind, and authorities suggested residents who had left stay away until Wednesday. They said those who stayed behind should remain inside, and tourists should wait for the weekend to return. Roughly 20,000 tourists left over the weekend when it looked like Ike could make a direct hit.
By early afternoon Monday, a Category 2 Ike had moved just off Cuba and was maintaining its strength over warm water, said Felix Garcia, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center.
With the current forecast models, Jindal said he doesn't anticipate the sort of mass evacuations forced by Gustav, which emptied out most of south Louisiana.