HAVANA: Cubans returned from shelters to find flooded homes and washed-out roads on Sunday, but no deaths were reported after Hurricane Gustav roared across the island and into the Gulf of Mexico. About 2,50,000 Cubans were evacuated before Gustav made landfall on Cuba’s Isla de la Juventud, then again on the Cuban mainland in the region, which produces much of the tobacco used to make the nation’s famed cigars.
It was just short of top-scale category 5 hurricane with screaming 220-km per hour winds as it moved across the island, toppling telephone poles and fruit trees, shattering windows and tearing off the tin roofs of homes. A Cuban TV reporter on the Isla de la Juventud said the storm had felt like “the blast wave from a bomb.”
“Buildings without windows, without doors,” he said, adding: “Few trees remain standing.” Cuban Civil Defence chief Ana Isa Delgado said there were “many people injured” on the island of 87,000 people. Nearly all the island’s roads were washed out and some regions were heavily flooded. “It’s been very difficult here,” she said.
But there were no reports of deaths, there or on the mainland. Gustav earlier killed 81 people by triggering floods and landslips in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. The hurricane weakened slightly after crossing Cuba, slowing to category 3 status before sunrise on Sunday. But it still packed top winds near 195 km per hour and forecasters predicted it would increase to a category 4 before making landfall on Monday along the U.S. Gulf coast.
More than 1 million Americans made wary by Hurricane Katrina took buses, trains, planes and cars as they streamed out of New Orleans and other coastal cities, where Katrina killed about 1,600 people in 2005. Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans issued a mandatory evacuation order and warned that anyone found off their own property after it takes effect can be arrested. The police and National Guard troops were on the streets, preparing to patrol evacuated neighbourhoods.
Mr. Nagin called Gustav the “mother of all storms” and told residents to “get out of town. This is not the one to play with.” Cuba’s top meteorologist, Jose Rubiera, said the storm brought hurricane-force winds to much of the western part of Havana, where power was knocked out as winds blasted sheets of rain sideways though the streets and whipped angry waves against the famed seaside Malecon Boulevard.
But Sunday morning no flooding could be seen in central Havana, and state radio said the damage was “minimal” in the capital of 2 million people. Transportation began running again on Sunday, as did buses and trains from Havana to the Provinces. State radio said schools would open on Monday everywhere except Pinar del Rio.
In the fishing town of Batabano, 50 km south of Havana, evacuees returned to their pastel-coloured homes to find many surrounded by knee-deep water. “My house is full of water,” said Aldo Tomas (43), pulling palm branches from his living room. “But we expected more. We expected worse,” he added. On Sunday, Gustav was centred about 605 km southeast of the Mississippi River. — AP
7 months ago