Gustav destroys homes, floods Cuba

September 1, 2008 5:42:42 AM PDT
Hurricane Gustav 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. Gustav made a direct hit on the Isla de la Juventud south of the Cuban mainland 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.

The storm damaged or destroyed 86,000 homes and toppled 80 power stations 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. It snapped fruit trees, flooded all major roads and demolished homes.

Information from the area was spotty, but a Cuban reporter told government television that the storm's wrath looked like "the blast wave from a bomb."

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 national record for maximum wind speed in 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."

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 from seven, and Haiti upped its count from 66 to 76.

Meanwhile Sunday, Tropical Storm Hanna swirled through open waters near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas with sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph).