Cubans returned from shelters to find flooded homes and washed-out roads Sunday, but no deaths were reported after a monstrous Hurricane Gustav roared across the island and into the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico.

A Cuban television reporter on the Isla de la Juventud said the storm had felt like "the blast wave from a bomb."

If, as currently predicted, Gustav lands west of New Orleans on Monday as a Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds up to 155 mph (249 kph), its 16-foot (5-metre) storm surge could break through the same levees that failed three year ago.

Gustav weakened to a still dangerous Category 3 storm after it passed over Cuba. It killed at least 86 people in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica.

But the latest warnings from the National Hurricane Center brought some relief with signs that the storm was weakening slightly and sucking up less power over the warm Gulf water that made Katrina an explosive Category 5 as it moved north.

Katrina was a Category 3 when its 28-foot (8.5 metre) storm surge burst levees on Aug. 29, 2005.

Live and let live