Ivan batters US coastline

Ferocious winds uprooted trees and sheets of rain flooded coastal Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana, as the storm raged for hours as it left the Gulf of Mexico and made its way inland.

Strong storm surges and heavy rain flooded roads in several areas as the wind rattled homes, shook trees and threatened anyone or anything in Ivan’s path.

The hurricane is rated at category four – the second highest – which would place it among the 16 most powerful storms to hit the United States since 1900.

It has already killed more than 70 people as it made its way across the Caribbean before entering the Gulf of Mexico.

Ivan claimed two more lives when tornados it spawned ripped across north-eastern Florida, as the state was still mopping up from the havoc wrought by two major hurricanes over the past month.

At the same time, Puerto Rico reported two deaths as tropical storm Jeanne crashed into the island and threatened to intensify into a hurricane, while a Pacific hurricane was moving along the Mexican coast.

Ivan’s killer winds, blowing at 215 kph, and torrential rains were the main concern along the US Gulf Coast, where hundreds of thousands of people evacuated their homes over the past days.

“You don’t want to be here when it hits the shores,” said Alabama Governor Bob Riley, warning people to flee.

The storm knocked out power lines leaving tens of thousands of people without electricity in Alabama.

In the Louisiana city of New Orleans, which lies below sea level and is bordered by water on three sides, police drove door to door imploring those still at home to flee to higher ground.

Though the city is expected to be spared a direct hit, Mayor Ray Nagin told reporters that the city was still expecting some hurricane-force winds.

Ivan’s powerful winds spread some 465km from its eye.

Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi are under a state of emergency, with houses and businesses near the coast boarded up and military bases sending personnel, ships and planes to safety.

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 per cent of all buildings damaged or destroyed, officials said.

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