Hurricane Gustav Continues March To Gulf

Waves crash along the shoreline as the Gustav storm system approaches in West Bay on Grand Cayman Island, Friday, Aug. 29, 2008. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
Gustav became a hurricane again on Friday and moved through the Cayman Islands, the start of a buildup that could take it to the U.S. Gulf Coast as a fearsome Category-3 storm three years after Hurricane Katrina.

Gustav, which killed 71 people in the Caribbean, on Friday evening reached the Cayman Islands, a tiny offshore tax haven studded with resorts and cruise-ship souvenir shops, on track to next hit Cuba's cigar country and heading into the Gulf of Mexico by Sunday.

Well-heeled tourists fled Cayman hotels by air, while Katrina victims in Mississippi still living in emergency cottages and trailers were told to evacuate beginning this weekend.

Hotels on the Cayman Islands asked guests to leave, then after the airport closed prepared to shelter those who remained. Chris Smith, of Frederick, Maryland, said his hotel handed out wrist bands marked with guests' names and room numbers so that "if something happens they can quickly identify us."

"That was a little bit sobering," he said, standing outside the hotel with his luggage.

About 20 islanders waited for the storm in a high school gym.

"If people give you a shelter, you should take it," said Pamela Hall, 52.

The storm killed four people in a day-long march across the length of Jamaica, where it ripped off roofs and downed power lines. About 4,000 people were displaced from their homes, with about half relocated to shelters.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding said the government sent army helicopters Friday to rescue 31 people trapped by floods. At least 59 people died in Haiti and eight in the Dominican Republic.

Western Cuba is bracing for the expected assault by Gustav which could be a category 2 or 3 hurricane by the time it crosses the Isle of Youth, south of Havana, Saturday before hitting the famed cigar territory of Pinar del Rio, reports CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum.

Cuban TV reports that over 12,000 residents of Pinar del Rio are being evacuated Friday night. The tobacco harvest has been moved to safe locations and the population is doing the best it can to secure the roofs of their home-palm thatched roofs are being tied down with rope in the hope of preventing them from being blown out.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Gustav could grow to a Category 3 storm, with winds above 111 mph, by the time it hits the U.S. Gulf coast next week. Gustav could strike anywhere from the Florida Panhandle to Texas, but forecasters said there is a better-than-even chance that New Orleans will get slammed by at least tropical-storm-force winds.

As much as 80 percent of the Gulf of Mexico's oil and gas production could be shut down as a precaution if Gustav enters as a major storm, weather research firm Planalytics predicted. Oil companies have already evacuated hundreds of workers from offshore platforms.

Retail gas prices rose Friday for the first time in 43 days as analysts warned that a direct hit on Gulf energy infrastructure could send pump prices hurtling toward $5 a gallon. Crude oil prices ended slightly lower in a volatile session as some traders feared supply disruptions and others bet the government will release supplies from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Late Friday night, Gustav was centered 25 miles west-southwest of Little Cayman Island, moving northwest near 10 mph. The hurricane center said top winds were to near 80 mph.

"Gustav could become a major hurricane near the time it crosses western Cuba," the hurricane center said.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Hanna was projected to curl westward into the Bahamas by early next week. It had sustained winds near 50 mph.

Along the U.S. Gulf Coast, most commemorations of the Katrina anniversary were canceled because of Gustav, but in New Orleans a horse-drawn carriage took the bodies of Katrina's last seven unclaimed victims to burial.

In St. Tammany parish, people are already fortifying their homes with sandbags, lining up for gas, buying water and generators and some are heading for higher ground, reports CBS News correspondent Hari Sreenivasan.

President Bush declared an emergency in Louisiana, a move that allows the federal government to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance in storm-affected areas.

The U.S. Navy has put an amphibious task force consisting of three ships on alert in Norfolk, Va., about three days from the Gulf Coast, reports CBS News correspondent David Martin. A similar force was sent to New Orleans after Katrina to provide helicopters and medical care.

Republican officials said yesterday that they are considering delaying the start of the GOP convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul because of Gustav, according to the Washington Post.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said an evacuation order was likely, though not before Saturday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it expects a "huge number" of Gulf Coast residents will be told to leave the region this weekend.

Closer to the storm, workers at the Westin Causarina Hotel on Grand Cayman island shored up ground-floor rooms with sandbags.

"We've taken in all the balcony furniture, all the pool furniture, the marquees, tied up what needs to be tied up, cut down any coconuts," said hotel manager Dan Szydlowski.

Thunderstorms associated with Gustav already were bringing heavy downpours Friday to parts of central Cuba and evacuations were ordered in flood-prone areas.

Authorities in the tobacco-rich western Cuba, where Gustav is expected to cross the island, hauled 465,000 sacks of tobacco to higher ground for safekeeping and began distributing extra rations of milk and bread.