Hurricane Ike will reach Cuba tonight.
Dangerous Hurricane Ike roared toward Cuba with 135 mph (215 kph) winds on Sunday and was expected to sweep into the Gulf of Mexico where it could threaten the U.S. oilpatch and possibly New Orleans.
Ike could reach Cuba's northeast coast late Sunday night and track across much of the length of Cuba for a day and half before leaving the island on Tuesday as a Category 1 or 2 storm.
Cuban authorities, reeling from Hurricane Gustav last week, issued hurricane warnings for Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Holguín, Las Tunas, Camagüey, Ciego de Avila, Villa Clara, Sancti Spiritus and Cienfuegos.
Cuban authorities are working to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people in the eastern and central coastal areas using buses, trucks and any other transportation that was available as Ike bore down as a fierce Category 4 hurricane that could flood the shore with 18 feet (5.5 metres) of water.
Thousands of tourists staying at Cuba's prime resorts along the northern coast from Guardalavaca in eastern Holguin to Varadero in the west were being taken inland or to safe locations at resorts as hotels were boarded up.
Ranchers herded cattle in the prime grazing areas of eastern Las Tunas and Camaguey to higher ground, while port workers struggled to move cargo inland.
"We are at a disadvantage because there are no hills and mountains to break the wind," farm worker Artemio Madonadoemos said from the flatlands of Las Tunas.
"If the storm comes through here the damage will be enormous," he said before closing up his humble dwelling and heading for his brother's home in the city of Las Tunas.
Ike was set to come ashore in Holguin, home of the nickel industry, Cuba's most important export, then move westward over the heart of the sugar industry. Holguin's mines and three processing plants in the mountains were shut down.
When it emerges from Cuba, Ike could follow a path similar to that of last week's Hurricane Gustav toward Louisiana and Texas. That would be a threat to New Orleans, the city swamped by Katrina three years ago, and the Gulf energy rigs, which account for a quarter of U.S. oil and 15 percent of natural gas output.