Gustav destroys homes in Cuba

September 1, 2008 10:17:22 AM PDT
After a destructive and deadly march across the Caribbean, Hurricane Gustav was bearing down on southern Louisiana early Monday. The hurricane smashed tens of thousands of homes, toppled trees and telephone poles and washed out roads in Cuba, but no deaths were reported Sunday as the massive storm roared away from the island with the U.S. Gulf Coast in its sights.

Gustav made a direct hit on the Isla de la Juventud south of the Cuban mainland as a powerful Category 4 hurricane on Saturday with screaming 140 mph (220 kph) winds. It then passed across the country's western tip before heading into the Gulf of Mexico on a collision course with the southern United States.

Gustav earlier killed 94 people by triggering floods and landslides in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Jamaica's Emergency Management office on Sunday raised Gustav's death toll there to 10, and Haiti upped its count to 76.

In Cuba, the storm damaged or destroyed 86,000 homes and downed 80 electricity towers across the island, said Col. Miguel Angel Puig, head of operations for Cuban civil defense.

Speaking on a government news round-table program, Puig said 19 people were injured, though none gravely. Most of the 250,000 residents who were evacuated to shelters were back home by Sunday evening.

On Isla de la Juventud, surging waters tossed a transport ferry from its moorings into a neighborhood in the city of Nueva Gerona, and knocked down radio and television towers. The storm snapped fruit trees, flooded all major roads and demolished homes.

In Pinar del Rio, the western tobacco-producing region, highways were blocked by fallen trees and downed power lines, and all public transportation ground to a halt. People who lost their homes gathered in nearby fields, and Puig said authorities were working to relocate those left homeless by the storm. He did not say how many of the 86,000 damaged homes had been destroyed, however.

Officials measured gusts of 212 mph (340 kph) in the western town of Paso Real del San Diego - a new wind speed record for a country often hit by major hurricanes, according to Miguel Angel Hernandez of the Cuban Institute of Meteorology.

Gustav's winds appeared to have done the most damage, but some areas experienced flooding.

In the fishing town of Batabano, 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Havana, evacuees - some with their dogs in tow - returned to their pastel-colored, wooden homes to find water seeping under the doors. Nearby streets were flooded waist-deep.

"My house is full of water," said Aldo Tomas, 43, pulling palm branches from his living room. "But we expected more. We expected worse."

Meanwhile on Monday, Tropical Storm Hanna was drifting westward in the Atlantic with maximum sustained winds near 50 mph (85 kph).

A tropical storm warning was in effect for the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas.