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Cuba weighs huge Gustav damage, Castro hails evacuations

by Staff Writers
Havana (AFP) Sept 1, 2008
Hurricane Gustav damaged 100,000 homes and devastated schools, power supplies and tobacco crops in western Cuba, officials said Monday, as Fidel Castro hailed preparations that prevented any deaths.

Gustav, which killed more than 80 people in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica, tore through western Cuba late Saturday as a huge Category Four storm on the five-level Saffir-Simpson Scale, with winds gusting up to 340 kilometers (210 miles) per hour.

It crashed into the US Gulf Coast Monday as a Category Two hurricane near New Orleans, where Gustav's torrential rains and storm surge were threatening to inundate the city.

Gustav damaged more than 100,000 houses, 370 schools and hundreds of kilometers of electricity and telephone cables in Cuba but only injured 19 people, officials said Monday.

Former president Fidel Castro warned that the island's recovery would be slow, but hailed preparations for the storm.

"The task we have ahead needs time and experience," he said in a newspaper article. "Nothing is more devastating than the destruction and damage after a hurricane."

Castro, who has not been seen in public since a July 2006 stomach operation for an undisclosed illness, maintains influence through comments in newspapers, although his brother, Raul, is now president.

Fidel personally directed hurricane emergency procedures when he was in power and praised the "hundreds of thousands" of Cubans who helped in storm preparation and recovery efforts.

Cuban authorities said Monday they had evacuated some 467,000 people across the country, including 77 percent of the population of the western Pinar del Rio province and the Isle of Youth, which was hit first.

In Pinar del Rio, 86,000 homes were damaged, 90 electricity pylons and 1,200 electricity and telephone poles were knocked down, daily Granma reported.

"This blow is hard, very hard," said vicepresident Jose Ramon Machado.

Radio Rebelde reported that 87 percent of homes on the Isle of Youth, with 86,550 inhabitants, had been damaged.

"The situation is much more complicated than we imagined in the beginning," said Ana Delgado, Communist Party first secretary for the low-lying island.

In a blow to the key tobacco industry, more than 3,414 fragile warehouses were also destroyed, said Olga Tapia, first secretary of the Communist Party in Pinar del Rio, adding that heavy rains had soaked 906 tons of tobacco leaves.

Tapia said the leaves could be dried out but did not give a value for the estimated damage to the harvest.

She also said 372 schools were damaged in the province, delaying a return to classes.

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Cubans pick up pieces of Gustav-battered homes
Los Palacios, Cuba (AFP) Aug 31, 2008
Trees and telephone poles littered the streets and houses were missing doors and roofs, as residents of Los Palacios, western Cuba, despaired Sunday at hurricane Gustav's path of destruction.

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