Texans prepare for Hurricane Ike
Residents in the US state of Texas have begun to evacuate as Hurricane Ike churns through the Gulf of Mexico.
About one million people have been advised to leave their homes, and the authorities have laid on more than 1,000 buses to facilitate the exodus.
Meteorologists warned Ike could develop into a major hurricane before hitting the Texas coast late on Friday.
Ike has killed more than 70 people in the Caribbean, with Haiti and Cuba particularly badly hit.
The US has pledged $10m (£5.7m) in aid to Haiti, where the UN estimates 800,000 people are in temporary shelters.
And Washington offered $100,000 in initial aid to Cuba, whose government has been subject to a US trade embargo for four decades.
Cuba turned the offer down, asking instead that the US sells it supplies on credit.
National Hurricane Center (NHC) projections show Ike reaching the US coast by late on Friday, but say the storm's path could veer.
People have been boarding up their property in Galveston, Texas
They say Texas could be lashed with 130mph (208km/h) winds and a 20ft (6m) storm surge above normal tide levels as the storm approaches the coast.
NHC warned that because the storm is so large, weather along the coast is expected to deteriorate long before it hits land.
Tropical storm force winds currently extend up to 275 miles (445KM) from the Ike's centre.
Almost all energy production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut down as a precaution, but the US department of energy said the storm was expected to miss most of the installations.
At 1500 GMT forecasters said the eye of the storm was about 470 miles (760km) east of Galveston on the Texas coast, moving at about 10mph (17 km/h).
The mayor of Galveston, Lyda Ann Thomas, has issued a mandatory evacuation order for the city and said no shelters will be opened.
"Those who stay here and don't voluntary evacuate, we are asking to simply stay at home," she said.
The city is providing 75 buses to transport city resident to the state capital, Austin.
Several other counties along the coast have announced mandatory or voluntary evacuations.
'Buses, not body bags'
The authorities have begun moving weak and chronically-ill hospital patients to San Antonio, about 190 miles from Houston.
Texans described businesses being boarded up and residents taking to the roads en masse.
"Probably every mobile home in the state was on the road," said Margaret Romero, a 67-year-old from Corpus Christi.
"Every house on our street was boarded up," she told Reuters.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, who organised 1,350 buses to help residents leave, said he believed some were likely to resist evacuation calls but added that he wanted to see "buses, not body bags".
Earlier, President George W Bush had declared a federal emergency in Texas, allowing funds to be freed to help the state deal with the storm.
Ike is currently a Category Two storm, with winds of 100mph, but forecasters say it is likely to strengthen on its way through the Gulf of Mexico.
In Cuba, the storm killed four people, wrecked tens of thousands of buildings and destroyed crops.
The UN estimates the cost of the damage at between $3bn-$4bn.
The island nation was already reeling from the impact of Hurricane Gustav, which destroyed about 100,000 homes when it hit the island at the end of August.
Ike earlier caused 66 deaths in Haiti and reportedly damaged 80% of the homes in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, has endured the onslaught of four tropical storms in a three-week period, causing more than 550 deaths.
The UN has appealed for more than $100m in international aid to assist Haiti, where most people already lived on less than a dollar a day.