Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cuba's capital cleans up from Tropical Storm Paula

Posted on Thursday, 10.14.10
Cuba's capital cleans up from Tropical Storm Paula
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- Much of Cuba's capital remained without power early Friday
following a direct hit from Tropical Storm Paula, as cleanup crews
carried away fallen trees and swept up chunks of concrete torn from the
city's famed seawall.

The once-Category 2 hurricane was downgraded to a tropical depression in
the morning, with maximum sustained winds dropping to 25 mph (35 kph),
according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Cuban
officials discontinued all storm warnings.

Branches and palm fronds littered the broad, verdant 5th Avenue, home to
foreign embassies and crumbling mansions, and at least a half-dozen
large trees had come crashing down onto the gates of some properties.
Police directed traffic since signals were blacked out.

State-run media carried no reports of major damage or injuries, and the
island breathed a collective sigh of relief that the storm was not worse
- and certainly nothing like the trio of powerful hurricanes that hit in

"In my home, the winds were tremendous ... but nothing at all bad
happened," said Heidi Lao, a 19-year-old Havana resident. "We were
expecting more."

One woman was slightly injured when the floor of her apartment collapsed
in central Havana, neighbors said. Her husband and child, who were also
at home at the time, were not hurt, and police kept onlookers away.

Havana's crumbling old buildings often suffer collapses due to heavy
rains, sometimes days after a storm passes as support beams shift while
drying out.

The official Communist Party newspaper Granma said the roofs of some
homes and government buildings were damaged in western Pinar del Rio
province, where the storm passed Wednesday and early Thursday. It said
electricity pylons were toppled and several banana plantations damaged,
but the rain also refilled water reservoirs and, on the whole, would be
positive for agriculture.

Rogelio Iglesias, an Agriculture Ministry official in the region, told
the paper that tobacco picked in past harvests had been safely stored
away and was not damaged. Pinar del Rio is vital for Cuba's cigar
industry, and planting for a new harvest was to get under way this week.

By late morning, the storm was moving east at about 9 mph (15 kph), and
forecasters projected it to continue in that direction before making a
gradual turn toward the southeast.

Paula was expected to deliver an additional 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5
centimeters) of rain over central Cuba and the central Bahamas for the
next day and a half, and up to an inch over parts of the Florida Keys,
the Hurricane Center said.

By the time the storm has left Cuba it will have dumped up to 10 inches
(25 centimeters) of rain in some areas of the island, and possible flash
floods and mudslides were still a threat, forecasters said.

Paula dealt Havana a direct blow Thursday. Heavy rain poured down as
dusk fell, and the sea, which had been as flat as a plate, quickly
turned violent and frothy. In most of the city, gas and power was
knocked out - or switched off, a normal precaution when winds are high.
Waves crashed against the famed Malecon, or seawall, and some streets
were inundated with a foot or two of water.

The lights came back on in many areas overnight, but went off again
before sunrise, presumably to give crews a chance to repair fallen
lines. Morning traffic was normal along the Malecon, even as sea spray
drifted over the street.

The 2008 storms did an estimated $10 billion in damage - or a quarter of
Cuba's total GDP - a terrible blow for a country already reeling from
the global economic downturn, a drop in tourism and low prices for
nickel and other raw materials.

Paula brushed by Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula before arriving in Cuba,
causing the only fatality associated with the storm so far.
Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez in Havana contributed to this

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