Deadly Tropical Storm Gustav drenched Jamaica and menaced the Cayman Islands on Friday, setting off alarm from Cuba to New Orleans - and at gas pumps across the United States.
Gustav ripped off roofs, downed power lines and pounded rain into Jamaica, triggering landslides and flooding but no reported deaths. At least 67 people died earlier in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Forecasters at the US National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm could wind up almost anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico, but the currently projected track would carry it to Louisiana - perhaps as a major hurricane - by Tuesday.
The hurricane center said the storm was centered near Jamaica's western coast on Friday morning and it was moving toward the west-northwest near 13 kph. Gustav's maximum sustained winds were near 100 kph with higher gusts.
Forecasters said it could strengthen back into a hurricane before slamming into Grand Cayman on Friday and into the western tip of Cuba on Saturday.
In the Cayman Islands, some hotels closed and those that remained open encouraged guests to leave, but officials urged calm. Theresa Foster, one of the owners of the Grand Caymanian Resort, said Gustav didn't look as threatening as Hurricane Ivan, which destroyed 70 percent of Grand Cayman's buildings four years ago.
"Whatever was going to blow away has already blown away," she said.
Jamaica evacuated low-lying areas, closed the capital's main airport and halted bus service even as people streamed into supermarkets for emergency supplies.
Fears the Gustav could hurt Gulf oil production sent oil prices spiking above $120 a barrel this week before they settled at $115.59 on Thursday. But they were creeping up again on Friday, jumping past $116 a gallon.
The Gulf has 4,000 oil rigs and half of the US refining capacity. Hundreds of offshore workers have already been pulled out and analysts said the storm could send US gas prices back over $4 a gallon.
(China Daily 08/30/2008 page11)