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Ike moves into Gulf after lashing Cuba

Hurricane Ike moved into the warm waters of the Gulf on Tuesday after bringing down aging buildings in Havana and tearing through western Cuba's tobacco country.

Forecasters said Ike, which has killed at least 80 people in the Caribbean, could strengthen into a Category 3 storm before hitting Texas or Mexico this weekend.

Some 1.2 million people — more than a tenth of Cuba's population — sought refuge from Ike, which killed four people and shredded hundreds of homes.

Winds howled and rains lashed the empty streets of Havana as towering waves broke over the seaside Malecon promenade, devoid of the bustling crowds of Havana residents. Police braved the storm to stop all but emergency traffic in streets littered with branches, rocks and the rubble from crumbling balconies.

Collapsing buildings were reported throughout the city, and more were probable in coming days as the structures dry out and weaken. All of the buildings appeared to have been evacuated, and no injuries were reported.

To the west, reports of damage were sketchy as Ike moved across the region. Dangerous storm surges were reported along the southwestern coast, lined with small fishing villages. State news media said 19 communities were evacuated.

Many in the region, where most of Cuba's famed tobacco is grown, were still without power and water after monstrous Hurricane Gustav struck as a category 4 storm on Aug. 30. That storm damaged 100,000 homes and caused billions of dollars in damage, but didn't kill anyone because of massive evacuations.

Cuba evacuated for Ike as well, with hundreds of thousands seeking safety with friends, relatives or at government shelters. Evacuations are not mandatory in Cuba except for pregnant women and small children, but in an authoritarian state, few people ignore the government's advice.

Officials evacuated about 10,000 tourists from vulnerable seaside hotels, mostly from the Varadero resort east of Havana.

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