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Hurricane Ivan slams ashore, hammers wide swath of US Gulf Coast
MOBILE, Alabama (AFP) Sep 16, 2004
Hurricane Ivan tore through southern Alabama early Thursday, slamming the US coast from Mobile to Pensacola, Florida with fierce winds and pounding surf and spawning tornadoes that killed at least seven people in Florida, according to local television reports.

Hurricane-force winds tore roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and pushed towering surf well inland, flooding entire neighborhoods from Alabama to Florida, as the Texas-size storm raged for hours overnight.

After making landfall at 2:00 am (0600 GMT) between Mobile and Pensacola as a category four hurricane with winds of 215 kilometers (135 miles) per hour, Ivan's winds began to decrease to 185 kilometers (115 miles) per hour, making it a category three storm.

Hundreds of thousands were without power early Thursday in Mobile, and the streets were littered with fallen trees, smashed traffic lights and other debris. Area businesses were left with broken windows.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center warned that hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 170 kilometers (105 miles) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds more than twice that distance were spreading Ivan's dangerous impact across Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

Ivan, one of the 16 most powerful storms to hit the United States since 1900, already killed more than 70 people as it made its way across the Caribbean before entering the Gulf of Mexico.

Ivan claimed at least seven more lives late Wednesday when tornadoes it had spawned ripped across northeastern Florida, as the state was still mopping up from the havoc wrought by two other major hurricanes over the past month.

Local television showed footage of torn-off roofs and said about 80 homes were damaged by the tornadoes, which continued to affect the area into the early hours Thursday.

NBC affiliate NewsChannel Seven in Florida reported that seven people died in the storm, and cited Calhoun County Emergency Management Director Sonny O'Brien as saying there was so much damage that authorities were having difficulty reaching everyone who had been injured.

In Bay County, Florida alone, there were nearly a dozen tornadoes in the space of an hour, according to the television network.

Pensacola Mayor John Fogg told CNN that a tornado tore the roof off a hospital and said the civic center, where many people had sought refuge, had also been damaged by the storm.

Emergency service managers reported more than 70,000 people without power in Pensacola, and 40,000 in Biloxi, Mississippi.

New Orleans, much of it below sea level and extremely vulnerable to hurricanes and storm surge flooding, was spared from the brunt of Ivan, although some flooding was reported in low-lying parts of Louisiana.

Ivan's killer winds and torrential rains were the main concern along the US Gulf Coast, where hundreds of thousands of people evacuated their homes over the past few days.

Already before the storm made landfall, water seeped onto the shore and, in some cases, into houses across a wide swath of land threatened by Ivan's fury.

"It's been 25 years since we had such a huge hurricane. It was long overdue. I'm afraid this is going to be the one," retiree Rhonda Preston said as she left Mobile Wednesday with her husband, dog, six cats and their valuables.

At 0900 GMT Thursday, the eye of the hurricane was inland about 65 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Pensacola, moving north at 23 kilometers (14 miles) per hour, the National Hurricane Center said.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico reported two deaths as Hurricane Jeanne barreled into the island, while a Pacific hurricane, Javier, was moving along the Mexican coast. More than 400 families were evacuated from the Dominican Republic, and a hurricane watch was issued for the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands.

Before heading into the Gulf of Mexico, Ivan rampaged across the Caribbean, from Grenada to Cuba.

Grenada was the worst hit by Ivan, with at least 37 people killed last week and up to 90 percent of all buildings damaged or destroyed, officials said.

In Jamaica, police put the death toll at 21 after the powerful winds from Ivan tore down houses, felled trees and destroyed roads in the nation of 2.7 million.

Seven ports closed in four US states.

Puerto Rico also suffered heavy rains and flooding as Jeanne crashed ashore. One woman was killed when her home's zinc roof fell on her, emergency services said, and the daily El Nuevo Dia reported that an elderly man died when he fell from his roof while trying to install storm shutters.

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