Hurricane Ike Strengthens to Category 4, Raises Fears From Caribbean to Gulf

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"Extremely dangerous" 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 near the Florida Keys sometime Monday 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.

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"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."

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Ike's large eye punched its way late Saturday "near or over" the low-lying British territory of Turks and Caicos, already pummeled for four days this week by Tropical Storm Hanna.

At the airport in Providenciales hours before Ike's approach, Patrick Munroe had hoped to catch a departing flight, but was turned away, even before the airport closed.

"It looks really, really serious," he said. "And I think it's going to be devastating."

In Haiti, authorities tried to move thousands of people into shelters ahead of Ike, still struggling to recover from Hanna. Rescue workers feared Hanna's death toll could rise into the hundreds in the flooded city of Gonaives if Ike dumped more rain from outer storm bands as the storm rumbled nearby.

Hanna did not pack the same punch Saturday while racing up the U.S. Eastern seaboard, but it did cause one traffic accident fatality on Interstate 95 in Maryland. It also brought wind and pelting rain, with some sporadic flooding, all along its trek into New England.

In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Lowell formed late Saturday some 265 miles off Mexico's southwest coast and could become a hurricane by Monday, the hurricane center said. Forecasters said Lowell could unleash several inches of rain on parts of Mexico before drifting away from its coast.

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.

At 11 p.m. EDT, Ike's large eye was near or hovering over the Turks and Caicos.

Ike muscled up from a Category 3 to a Category 4 storm earlier in the day, with some gusts even higher than maximum sustained winds of 135 mph. It was moving toward the southwest at about 15 mph, a course it was expected to continue Sunday before gradually turning to the west toward the Gulf.

The storm's outer bands of lashing winds and rains were expected to begin affecting the Southeastern Bahamas overnight and Cuba's government put up hurricane warnings across several provinces.

"It's a very dangerous storm," hurricane center meteorologist Colin McAdie told The Associated Press. "There's going to be some ups and downs, but we expect it to remain a major hurricane over the next couple days."

Tourists were urged to leave the Bahamas, and authorities in the Dominican Republic began evacuating dozens of families from river banks that could flood because of two already overfilled dams.

In Louisiana, still recovering from last week's Hurricane Gustav, Gov. Bobby Jindal set up a task force to prepare for the possibility of more havoc.

"We're not hoping for another strike, another storm, but we're ready," he said.

Even as Gustav evacuees headed home, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said officials were anxiously monitoring Ike on a projected path toward the Gulf.

"Our citizens are weary and they're tired and they have spent a lot of money evacuating .. from Gustav," he said. He added that if Ike were to threaten, "my expectations this time is, it will be very difficult to move the kind of numbers out of this city that we moved during Gustav."

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.

Visitors to the Florida Keys were under a mandatory evacuation order Saturday and a light but steady stream of traffic rolled out of Key West. In typical fashion, laid-back residents and business owners kept their shops, bars and restaurants open. But unique was the worry, still nearly four days ahead of potential landfall.

Jesse Damian hammered plywood over windows at The Bike Shop.

"The owners are usually like all the people who wait until the last minute around here," he said. `n, which only UNLV kicker Ben Jaekle saved from being a touchdown, and the Utes scored on a 32-yard pass from Johnson to Freddie Brown. Utah got the ball back four plays later and John Peel returned a punt 25 yards to the UNLV 26-yard line, setting up a 15-yard touchdown run by Reed on a reverse to give Utah a 28-14 lead with 8:45 left in the third.

The Utes opened their third drive of the period at their own 41 and went the distance again, scoring on Johnson's 8-yard pass to Colt Sampson with 3:20 left in the quarter.

Utah gained only 28 yards in the second half of a 25-23 win at Michigan in the season opener the week before, but didn't get conservative with a big lead this time. Already up 34-14, Asiata lined up at quarterback early in the fourth and threw a perfect pass to Jereme Brooks for a 32-yard touchdown.

Johnson took a broken play up the middle for his longest career run and tied the game at 7-7 with 8:08 left in the half. Rusty Worthen nearly had the sack for UNLV, but Johnson broke free of the tackle and had nobody in between him and the end zone.

Click for more from the National Hurricane Center.