Hurricane Ike soaks Havana before moving into Gulf and aiming at US and Mexican coastlines

HAVANA (AP) âÄî Hurricane Ike moved into the warm waters of the Gulf and took aim at the U.S. and Mexican coasts Tuesday after bringing down aging buildings in Havana and tearing through western Cuba’s tobacco country. Forecasters said Ike, which has already killed at least 80 people in the Caribbean, could strengthen into a massive Category 3 storm before slamming into Texas or Mexico this weekend. Some 1.2 million people âÄî more than a tenth of Cuba’s population âÄî sought refuge from Ike, which killed four people and shredded hundreds of homes as it barreled across the island. 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 who normally fish and chat by day and drink and socialize at night. Navigation was banned in Havana Bay, its usually placid surface stirred up by white-capped waves. Police braved the storm to stop all but emergency traffic in streets littered with branches, rocks and the rubble from crumbling balconies. The heavy rains soaked the buildings of Havana’s picturesque older areas, causing some of the more dilapidated to collapse. Four aging houses on a single block were reduced to rubble when their walls came tumbling down with a loud boom, and work crews labored with heavy machinery in the strong winds to clear the rubble from the street.