WRAPUP 7-Hurricane Ike moves into Gulf of Mexico from Cuba
* Hurricane Ike moves into Gulf of Mexico
* Ike topples decrepit Havana buildings
* Four deaths, widespread damage, reported in Cuba
* Threat to U.S. Gulf energy platforms eases
By Jeff Franks
HAVANA, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Hurricane Ike moved off Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday on a path that should steer it away from the heart of the U.S. offshore oil patch after ripping the island from one end to the other.
Ike, now barely a Category 1 storm with 75 mile per hour (120 km per hour) winds, left a long trail of destruction across the Caribbean and had energy companies fearful it could do the same to their Gulf oil rigs as they scurried to evacuate workers and shut down production.
Forecasters said Ike would likely regain power in the Gulf's warm waters and possibly become a major storm again, revving up to a Category 3 on the five-step hurricane intensity scale with a minimum of 115 mph (178 kph) winds.
The good news for energy operators in the Gulf, where a quarter of U.S. oil and 15 percent of natural gas is produced, is that latest projections call for Ike to go west toward the Texas-Mexico border, away from the main offshore production areas.
Oil futures dipped more than $2 to below $105 on the forecast, although the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami warned that its projections were subject to change.
Ike's most likely projected track eased fears that it would threaten New Orleans, still scarred by Katrina, which killed 1,500 people and caused $80 billion in damage on the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005.
Ike wreaked widespread damage on the east and west sides of Cuba.
Few official figures had emerged yet, but state-run media showed a panorama of destruction across the island, still reeling from the more powerful Hurricane Gustav 10 days ago.
Ike struck eastern Cuba on Sunday with 120 mph (195 kph) and torrential rains that destroyed buildings, wiped out the electricity grid, toppled trees, leveled crops including sugar cane fields, pushed rivers over their banks and threatened to overfill reservoirs.
The damages could total between $3 billion and $4 billion, according to some official sources, said Elisabeth Byrs of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs at a news briefing in Geneva.
'ARMY OF GHOSTS'
Havana, which barely escaped the full wrath of Gustav, was pounded by Ike's winds and rain on Monday and Tuesday, which toppled at least 16 beautiful but crumbling old buildings in the capital. Its streets were littered with trees, foliage and debris.
"It sounds like Havana has been invaded by an army of ghosts," Havana resident Maria Valdez said, referring to the howling winds.
No deaths had been reported in Havana, but officials said four people died in the eastern provinces -- a rarity for Cuba where the government conducts massive, obligatory evacuations.
Gustav killed no one, the government said. State-run Prensa Latina said on Tuesday Gustav had damaged 140,000 buildings -- 90,000 of them homes -- when it blasted across the Isle of Youth and westernmost province Pinar del Rio.
After crossing the eastern provinces, Ike dipped into the Caribbean and headed northwest where it made its second Cuba landfall on Tuesday at Punta la Capitana in Pinar del Rio.
The storm ripped across the same region struck by Gustav before leaving the island near the town of Manuel Sanguily on Pinar del Rio's north central coast.
Storm-weary residents of the western province, many still awaiting repair of their shattered homes, said that after Gustav, Ike was a breeze.
"There are strong wind gusts but it's not even a shadow of Gustav," said Juan Carlos Abadia in the town of Candelaria. "We're accustomed to it. This is one disaster after another."
Before Cuba, Ike hit Britain's Turks and Caicos Islands and the southern Bahamas as a ferocious Category 4 hurricane.
Floods triggered by its torrential rains were blamed for at least 66 deaths in Haiti, where Tropical Storm Hanna killed 500 last week.
The United Nations said it would launch an emergency appeal for money with about 800,000 people in Haiti in need of urgent help, nearly half of them children. The impoverished country has been hit by four storms in a month. (Additional reporting by Esteban Israel, Marc Frank, Rosa Tania Valdes and Nelson Acosta in Havana, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Jim Loney in Miami; editing by Tom Brown and Mohammad Zargham)
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