Hurricane Ike continued its path across Cuba Tuesday, bringing heavy rains and winds of up to 120 kilometers per hour. The storm weakened over the past 24 hours, but still knocked down buildings and power lines as it passed through western parts of Cuba, including the capital, Havana. One day earlier, Ike flooded streets and destroyed scores of buildings in the eastern towns of Baracoa and Camaguey.
Cuban state media reported more than one million people were evacuated from vulnerable areas and moved into government shelters or other secure buildings.
International aid groups said they were beginning to receive damage assessments to begin deploying aid to affected regions. "There is tremendous damage in the eastern part of the island from Ike. That compounds the earlier damage that took place in the western part of the country. So homes with no roofs, families displaced by the thousands, lack of food. It is actually quite dire," said Marc Wachtenheim, director of the Cuba Development Initiative at the Pan American Development Foundation based in Washington.
Wachtenheim says immediate needs include clean water, medicine and other first aid supplies, and emergency shelters. In coming weeks, he says his group also plans to work with civil society groups in Cuba to help provide building materials to repair homes damaged in the storm, as well as seeds and other agricultural supplies to assist farmers who lost crops in the storm.
In Haiti, relief workers are struggling to deliver supplies to regions hard hit by flooding and mudslides from Hurricane Ike. The United Nations mission in Haiti used helicopters to deliver supplies to the city of Gonaives, which remains surrounded by flood waters.
U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services had been working to provide food supplies to Gonaives residents affected by Hurricane Gustav which hit the region more than a week ago.
Lynn Renner, Caribbean coordinator for the group, says the latest storm disrupted those efforts. "Apparently they were able to get in a convoy of three trucks into Gonaives with food and now it has been cut off again we understand."
Renner says they are directing $150,000 to provide additional food supplies to aid Haitians affected by Hurricanes Ike and Gustav and other recent storms.
Weather forecasters say they are continuing to watch Hurricane Ike as it continues west on a path that could hit the Texas or Mexico coast by Friday.