- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2008

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos (AP) – Hurricane Ike barreled toward the Turks and Caicos as a powerful Category 3 hurricane Saturday, prompting an exodus of tourists and residents from the normally idyllic Atlantic island chain.

Turks and Caicos and the southern Bahamas appeared to be first in line to take a hit from Ike, and many people decided they would be better off elsewhere. For some, the decision to flee came too late.

Authorities planned to close the airport at noon, and even with extra flights scheduled, some had trouble finding seats.

“The flights look impossible at the moment,” a dejected Patrick Munroe said outside the terminal in Providenciales. He had hoped to return to his native Bahamas to be with his wife and child when the storm gets there.

“As I watched the weather forecast it looks really, really serious and I think it’s going to be devastating,” he said.

“I don’t remember ever seeing a mass exodus like this,” said Tracy Paradis, a longtime resident of Providenciales who was heading to Seattle with her 19-month-old twins to wait out the storm.

The low-lying island chain, a British territory, was pummeled for four days by Hanna earlier this week. That storm caused widespread flooding, and knocked down trees, light poles and an important causeway that links North Caicos and Middle Caicos.

Premier Michael Misick toured some of the hardest-hit areas and pledged government aid while also warning people to heed the warnings about Ike.

Ike’s eye was about 135 miles (215 kilometers) east of Grand Turk Island early Saturday afternoon. It was moving west-southwest about 15 mph (24 kph).

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm’s maximum sustained winds slipped a little Saturday morning, to near 110 mph (175 kph), but jumped back to Category 3 force of 115 mph (185 kph) by early afternoon.

Forecasters said Ike could be near or over the Turks and Caicos, southeastern Bahamas by early Sunday and eastern Cuba by Monday.

Beyond that along Ike’s projected course stand Cuba’s two chief tourist centers: Varadero beach and Havana, the seaside capital of 2.3 million people. It was not expected to affect Saturday’s World Cup soccer qualifier between the United States and Cuba in Havana.

A spokesman for Britain’s Ministry of Defense said the HMS Iron Duke, a frigate, and the HMS Wave Ruler, an auxiliary ship, were on standby in the Turks and Caicos with food, water, medical supplies and some shelter-building equipment, as well as a helicopter. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military policy.

Many in the Turks and Caicos said that Hurricane Hanna gave them a sense of vulnerability.

“I’ve been here 13 years and Hanna was the strongest thing we’ve had,” Dierin Longmire said as she checked in at the airport. “It shook me up.”

She said she was closely monitoring the storm’s approach and decided to start her vacation to Asia earlier than usual.

“I have a feeling it’s going to be bad,” she said.

Leslie Foss, a personal trainer who has lived in Turks for eight years, originally planned to ride it out. But the man who built her house in Providenciales and a friend in the Canadian coast guard encouraged her leave. She was evacuating with her Great Dane, Max.

“When people who have experienced these things … are leaving, it just makes you think,” said Foss, a native of Saskatchewan, Canada.

Business in Providenciales covered windows with plywood, and most hotels closed and ordered tourists out.

Jonathan Cohen, from Queens, New York, had already planned to return home Friday but others at the Club Med resort where he spent the week were forced to cut short their vacations.

“What we saw was pretty bad,” the 35-year-old physician’s assistant said. “So for it to be two, three times worse, well, it’s time to get out of here.”

Not everyone, however, was heading to the mainland. Many residents went about their business as usual – under mostly clear skies – and even a few tourists planned to stick it out. The airport in Providenciales was expected to close Saturday.

In the Bahamas, the government urged tourists to evacuate the sparsely populated southeastern islands.

“We are strongly encouraging all of our visitors to voluntarily evacuate,” said Vernice Walkine, director general of the Tourism Ministry.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide