(AP) – August 27, 2008 -- Gustav swirled toward Cuba on Wednesday after triggering flooding and landslides that killed at least 22 people in the Caribbean. Its track pointed toward the U.S. Gulf coast, including Louisiana where Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc three years ago.
Oil prices jumped above $119 a barrel as workers began to evacuate from the offshore rigs responsible for a quarter of U.S. crude production and much of America's natural gas.
"We know it's going to head into the Gulf. After that, we're not sure where it's heading," said Rebecca Waddington, a meteorologist at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center. "For that reason, everyone in Gulf needs to be monitoring the storm. At that point, we're expecting it to be a Category 3 hurricane."
On Wednesday, Gustav was moving off of Haiti's southwestern peninsula into the waters between Cuba and Jamaica. Its tentative track pointed directly at the Cayman Islands, an offshore banking center where residents boarded up homes and stocked up on emergency supplies in preparation for a possible direct hit Friday.
Friday is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's strike on Louisiana and Mississippi, and Gustav's tentative track raised the possibility of a Labor Day landfall there. But the average error in five-day forecasts is about 310 miles in either direction, meaning the likeliest targets could be anywhere from south Texas to the Florida panhandle.
New Orleans officials began planning for possible evacuations, and urged people who might need help in an evacuation to call an emergency information number. Mississippi Emergency Management Director Mike Womack advised people along the coast to prepare.
Gustav is raising concern particularly because there are few surrounding wind currents capable of shearing off the top of the storm and diminishing its power, the hurricane center said. "Combined with the deep warm waters, rapid intensification could occur in a couple of days."
Gustav diminished to a tropical storm over Haiti but still had top winds of 60 mph (95 kph) and was dumping 12 inches or more of rain over the Caribbean. The storm was centered about 90 miles south-southeast of Guantanamo, heading west-northwest at 5 mph, and forecasters said it could soon regain hurricane strength.
It was expected to pass between Jamaica and the southeastern coast of Cuba on Thursday, "however, any deviation to the left of the forecast track could bring the center of Gustav very near Jamaica," the hurricane center said.