Havana 04 November: ON October 25, the head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (USIS) asked to be received at MINREX to hand over a diplomatic note via which the U.S. government offered to send a team of three officials from the Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster and Civic Aid Office attached to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), with a view to assessing the damage caused by Hurricane Wilma and to evaluate a potential offer of humanitarian aid to our country. On handing over the note, the USIS head stated that he really felt the damage caused to the people of Cuba by this hurricane, and commented that other countries like Mexico and the United States had also suffered from the onslaught of Wilma and that at moments like these we have to help each other.
The following day, October 26, less than 24 hours after receiving the USIS note, the second head of that Section was called to MINREX to be presented with a diplomatic note in which the U.S. authorities were informed that Cuba had not asked for international aid but had no objection to the visit of the three officials mentioned with a view to hearing their assessments and discussing the natural disasters provoked by ever more frequent an violent hurricanes and the necessary cooperation among all the countries in the region to confront them.
On October 28, the second head of USIS handed over another diplomatic note, stating that the three USAID officials were ready to travel as soon as the Cuban government authorized it and were prepared to immediately make an assessment of the needs of the Cuban people with a view to the potential dispatch of humanitarian aid. On that occasion, the second head of the USIS was reminded of the content of the October 26 MINREX note, in which it was clearly stated that Cuba was not asking for international aid but had no objections to the visit of the three officials in order to exchange views on natural disasters provoked by hurricanes in our area and the need for cooperation among all the countries in the region to confront them.
On October 29, the second head of the USIS was once again called to MINREX and was handed a diplomatic note in response to the one handed over the previous day by that Section, in which it was affirmed that Cuba was prepared to receive the USAID team of officials, whose visas would be processed in an expedite manner once they were requested, and in which it was reiterated that we were not interested in economic assessments of the damage caused by the hurricane with a view to hypothetical aid, but would prefer to discuss the possibilities of real cooperation among the countries in the area to prevent and combat the consequences of natural disasters, in which the protection and preservation of lives was the essential aspect.
On October 31, the second head of the USIS was once again called to MINREX with a view to presenting him with a diplomatic note containing an agenda that the Cuban side was thinking of discussing in the talks with the USAID officials, which included the following aspects:
Exchanging points of view on mutual help between the United States, Mexico, Cuba and other countries in situations of disaster or the danger of natural disaster such as those provoked in our region by steadily more frequent and violent hurricanes, and
Visits to areas affected by Hurricane Wilma in the provinces of City of Havana and Pinar del Río, in conformity with the wishes expressed by the US side. In that note it was once again affirmed that Cuba was not interested in economic assessments.
In this context, we received with surprise the statement made on November 1 by Adolfo Franco, deputy USAID administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, who affirmed that they were awaiting "authorization on the part of the government of Cuba so that a team of U.S. professionals in disasters could travel to that country and assess the damage in the affected areas," and that "their objective (of the team) is solely to assess the damage that the cyclone inflicted on Cuba and then propose the necessary quantities to help the population affected," and not "to open political talks with the government of Fidel Castro or have any new channel, or to discuss issues related to the disaster."
One day later, November 2, Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, announced a press statement in which the Cuban authorities were accused of "changing the team’s mission," by wishing to use it to "discuss the vision of the government of Cuba on the response to disasters in the region." The statement added that the U.S. government did not wish to convert a humanitarian mission into a political dialogue on issues unrelated to aid provision to the victims of Hurricane Wilma."
At the same time, it noted that the United States is giving $100,000 to independent and non-governmental organizations as initial and immediate aid to the Cuban people, in what would clearly appear to be a covert attempt to grant even more funding to the mercenary groups that the U.S. government organizes and directs in Cuba under the pretext of the hurricane.
Cuba once again reiterates that it has not asked the U.S. government for aid to confront the damage caused by Hurricane Wilma. We have the material and human resources for the recuperation which, moreover, is moving ahead in an accelerated manner.
Cuba rejects the imputation made against it of having modified the objective of the visit of the USAID officials, as well as the insinuation that by accepting it we are trying to obtain political advantages and open a channel for discussing bilateral problems between the two countries.
Cuba’s position has been transparent from the first instance, by making clear our disposition to receive them to discuss and exchange on the necessary regional cooperation in this sphere, so that each country can contribute the material and technical resources at its disposal.
On more than one occasion, Cuba has clearly transmitted to the U.S. government that it was not interested in economic assessments but in establishing a genuine, effective and beneficial cooperation for all the peoples of the region.
Cuba’s proposal to discuss cooperation in confronting situations of disaster or the danger of natural disasters remains in place and is based on our conviction that that only by establishing mechanisms of cooperation among all the countries of the area, including the United States, can we be in a position to protect and save human lives in the face of the increasingly more devastating phenomena that are lashing us.
Wilma, a week later: Havana is on the mend
BY RAISA PAGES —Granma International staff writer—
FIVE days after the sea flooded 9.5 square kilometers in the northern zone of Havana, the 100,000 individuals that live in this area already have their water, gas, and electrical services restored and are replacing their lost belongings.
Now that the worst has passed, the astonishing natural event and the immediate reaction by government authorities are recounted by Humberto Mollinedo, as his wife washes clothes dirtied by the sea. Mollinedo, a worker in the Mariel industrial zone, received a call from his wife on Monday morning October 24, asking him to come home because water was entering their apartment on 2nd Street and Fifth Avenue in Vedado. When he arrived, accompanied by a group of coworkers, he rushed to put the living room furniture and the family’s beds onto a scaffold. The television, video and stereo equipment were already safeguarded upstairs. But this family never imagined that the water would rise to the middle of their home’s wall.
Maritza Barredeche, who lives next door to Humberto, displayed a bed frame with a mattress destroyed by the sea. She lost several belongings because she had left her home to stay with family members and only secured her electrical appliances.
Emboldened by desperation, Angel Luis Parada, another resident of the area, took a wide plank of wood and began swimming toward his home in the dark in the middle of the night. When he arrived at his building on C Street, between First and Third Avenues, he saw that the water had risen above the roof of his garage-level apartment. Before leaving his house, he had put all his valuable items on a bunk bed, but he never thought that the flooding would be so severe. When the morning light allowed him to orient himself better, he gathered what he could and took it to the first floor of the building. He lost his television, mattress, and fans.
These folks, along with 100,000 other Havana residents in flooded areas, immediately received State assistance such as food, potable water, and health services and were also visited by social workers who took reports of lost belongings.
Angel Luis Parada, who swam in the dirty waters, was given medicine to prevent leptospiroris and those who suffered abrasions were given tetanus shots.
The residents of this zone whose cooking gas service was not immediately restored were lent electric stoves from the State’s reserves and were sold kerosene and alcohol for cooking food.
Angel Amador, vice president of the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power in the city of Havana, told Granma International that the rescue operation for individuals as well as material resources in five coastal municipalities involved more than 2,000 vehicles, 80 heavy equipment vehicles such as cranes and loaders, 770 generators, more than 500 communication devices, boats and other aquatic gear, provided through the valuable cooperation of the Ministry of Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior.
In the capital, a total of 130,717 individuals were evacuated, including boarding students from other provinces and tourists, for whom 722 shelters and 246 food preparation centers were set up. Nearly 86% of those who had to leave their dwellings went to homes of family and friends, demonstrating the sense of community and solidarity of the Cuban people when faced with difficult times.
Around 11,000 health workers— doctors, nurses, technicians, community health activists, and Red Cross volunteers— were mobilized to attend to people in the most affected areas; 121 ambulances were used in this operation and more than 5,000 hospital beds were prepared for emergencies.
About 2,125 basements and underground storage tanks for water were contaminated by sea water and in many cases the residents took it upon themselves to sanitize them. Health personnel distributed water purification treatments and returned to evaluate the water quality.
Nearly 4,000 drains and around 500 gutters were cleaned out before the storm and 743 water filters and pipes were unclogged.
Throughout the capital 244 education centers were damaged, of which 40 were in the five coastal municipalities. Audiovisual equipment for schools including 11,192 computers and 17,724 televisions were protected, emphasized Amador. Classes reconvened on the 25th at undamaged facilities, and at the close of this edition, the problems of the remaining localities had already been resolved.
DAMAGES TO HOMES
Flooding caused damage to 2,456 dwellings, reported Amador, who said that specialized personnel had visited the five coastal municipalities to evaluate the damage. In this zone specifically, 28 roofs were lost and 473 were partially wrecked; 33 homes were completely destroyed while 390 were damaged to some extent.
In the rest of the capital’s municipalities 379 dwellings were reportedly affected of which 89 were left without roofs and 276 suffered partial damages. Another four properties totally collapsed and 10 partially fell.
The sea destroyed 306 meters of the containing wall lining the 6.7 kilometers of the Malecón, Havana’s seaside highway. Another 2,000 square meters of sidewalks and pavement buckled. Specialized teams of the Ministry of the Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior are working to repair this area.
The three tunnels of the city that pass below sea level are already open to the public after being completely filled with water.
Havana is rapidly returning to normal. The flooding surpassed all expectations and the coastal residents, after their adverse experience, know that the sea is unpredictable.
Cuba and US to exchange information on Hurricanes - but Cuba has NOT asked for aid
Havana, Oct 28 (Prensa Latina) President Fidel Castro confirmed that Cuba has accepted US officials visit to exchange appraisals on hurricane Wilma´s effects.
The Cuban leader reminded on TV that the Foreign Affairs Ministry (MINREX) had cleared up to the US Interest Office that Havana had not asked for international aid.
However, he agreed with the idea that the US, Mexico and other countries in the area should help each other in disaster situations, such as hurricanes, which are more frequent and stronger.
"We do not object to being visited by the three officials to hear their opinions and exchange criteria on these issues," Fidel Castro emphasized after reading MINREX´s diplomatic note.
"This does not mean we´re accepting Washington´s aid," he ratified, and added that Cuba considered cooperation must extend to all the Caribbean and Central America.
Previously, the US State Department had asserted that Cuba accepted US assistance following the recent storm Wilma, which caused flooding and other damages, mainly in western provinces.
Washington proposed last October 25 to send an evaluation team to Havana. We have been informed that the Cuban government accepted the offer, said the State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
Cuba bouncing back from Wilma
Havana, Oct 27 (Prensa Latina) Cuba is quickly recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane Wilma, which has put to test the preparation and organization of Cubans to cope with natural disasters.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces began rebuilding areas near the seaside drive in Havana, where the sea razed sidewalks and took down the wall.
Army officers and soldiers from the Army´s Corp of Enginners are working on the tunnels at Linea and Fifth avenues, which were flooded. Backed by construction brigades, they are removing rubble and rebuilding a bridge.
Social Brigades and workers of Havana´s Basic Energy Organization are striving to return the city to normality, while over 10,000 public service workers are cleaning the streets.
There are several neighboorhoods close to the coastline that suffered the most from the fierce sea surge still without electricity. Teams of electrical workers are practically working around the clock to re-open the service in those areas.
Wilma: No lives lost in Cuba
Havana 25 Oct: NOT one person died in Cuba in the 10 days that Wilma was in the vicinity of the island, informed the Headquarters for Cases of Disaster attached to the National Defense Council.
Simultaneously with Wilma – adds the report quoted by AIN – tropical storm Alpha was battering the eastern region of the country with torrential rain. In response, 1,140 civil entities acted to reduce the consequences of both atmospheric events.
A preliminary count estimates that 607,542 persons were evacuated throughout the country, of these 70,300 in shelters and more than 537,200 in the homes of families and neighbors.
In the provinces from Pinar del Río to Sancti Spíritus more than 413,850 animals of various kinds were transported to areas of safety, including nearly 111,000 cows, 45,880 hogs, 23,550 sheep and 217,600 fowl.
More than 103,000 people were mobilized for Civil Defense measures; 1,325 shelters were activated, 591 of them in schools; 755 food preparation centers; and around 4,970 means of transportation.
Given its extended duration in waters close to Cuba, the hurricane’s effects lasted 10 days, causing ocean swells, heavy rain and winds.
President Fidel Castro offers medical aid to Mexico, where Wilma left more than one million victims
BY ORFILIO PELAEZ AND HAYDEE LEON of Granama International newspaper
Havana 23 Oct: IN face of the threat of Hurricane Wilma, the country has once again showed its high level of preparation for confronting such adversities of nature and mobilizing all forces and resources in order to protect each one of its citizens, something they cannot achieve in even the richest nations, affirmed President Fidel Castro, who spoke during a TV "Roundtable" program on Sunday, October 23.
Fidel contrasted the serenity, discipline and organization demonstrated by our people in face of the dangers posed by this menacing storm with the scenes of looting happening in stores and markets in the United States following Hurricane Katrina and now in the Yucatan, Mexico, after it was harshly lashed by Wilma’s winds of more than 200 kilometers per hour.
"That is the big difference between the capitalist system that promotes irrational consumerism, selfishness and madness, which leads people to loot a business when a disaster of this sort occurs, and our socialist society, where an enormous effort is made for equality, solidarity and justice, values that we will never renounce," Fidel emphasized.
He recalled that from the early years of the Revolution, when the first doctors were sent to Algeria, the country has always offered its selfless assistance to other peoples suffering from natural and other disasters, as was the case after the earthquakes in Peru and Nicaragua, even when the latter occurred under the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza.
Continuing on that subject, Fidel mentioned the recent offer of aid to the people of the United States after the tragedy in Louisiana following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in September.
After several days of a prolonged silence waiting for a response from U.S. authorities, he noted, the Henry Reeve International Contingent was created to offer aid to countries hit by natural disasters.
Shortly after the Contingent was formed, two huge disasters took place; one was in Central America, with the torrential rains caused by Hurricane Stan, mostly in Guatemala, and the other was the devastating earthquake that shook Pakistan, leaving an estimated 50,000 people dead and more than 60,000 injured, the Cuban president explained.
FOUR MEDICAL BRIGADES IN GUATEMALA AND TWO IN PAKISTAN
Discreetly, and without publicity, he noted, we sent four brigades from the Contingent, 400 doctors in total, to the most remote locations of Guatemala affected by the torrential flooding that took thousands of lives.
In contrast with Cuba’s gesture of solidarity, other nations prepared to send aid only did so at a symbolic level, as was the case in Louisiana; some equipment, a number of helicopters, and a few million dollars, nothing more, Fidel affirmed.
You cannot sort out anything with a few millions; what is needed are medical personnel to save lives and treat the sick, but they cannot send anyone because they don’t have them, nor can they even assemble them because they are doctors who have been corrupted by money. This is where you can appreciate what a genuine Revolution is, the values that it inculcates, the enormous wealth of human capital that we have created.
Commenting on the enormous damage caused by Wilma in the Yucatán Peninsula, where more than one million people have been affected, the president offered the Mexican government and people support in the context of medical and paramedical personnel, medicine and any other kind of aid required to confront the severe impact of the hurricane throughout that region.
During the Informative Roundtable, Fidel spoke by phone to Bruno Rodríguez, first deputy minister of Foreign Affairs who, from Pakistan, gave him details of the presence there of two Cuban medical brigades offering their services to earthquake victims in that country.
According to the deputy minister of MINREX, our doctors are working in difficult conditions due to the cold and the altitude of the area in which they are located, but are devoted to their noble mission and highly compensated by the great demonstrations of gratitude and respect from the people and the Pakistani authorities.
Also in phone contact with Dr. Yoandra Muro, head of the Cuban medical mission in Guatemala, it was known that our doctors are spread out in 800 communities in the 15 departments most affected by the torrential rains of Stan and that their morale is high.
Cuba rescues 250 flood victims from Wilma
HAVANA 24 Oct. - Hurricane Wilma drove the ocean over Havana's seawall on Monday, spilling water into coastal neighbourhoods of ageing buildings and forcing rescuers to take to inflatable rafts to pull nearly 250 people from flooded homes.
The seaside Malecon highway was inundated as swirling brown waters spread up to four blocks inland, submerging cars and leaving only the bright blue tops of phone booths peeking out. Waves lapped at the front door of the Foreign Ministry as young men in wooden boats rowed nearby.
There were no immediate reports of casualties on the island Monday, although tornados spun off by the storm over the weekend injured six people in rural areas. Nearly 700,000 people were evacuated across Cuba's west in recent days as Wilma approached, the government said.
While Havana's coastal road and adjacent neighborhoods often flood during storms, the extent of flooding Monday was highly unusual.
``We're amazed,'' resident Laura Gonzalez-Cueto said as she watched government scuba divers bring out people in black inflatable rafts with outboard motors.
At least 244 people, including some children, were rescued during the morning, municipal official Mayra Lassale said.
Dozens of people braved wind and rain to watch mammoth waves crash over the Malecon seawall.
``The ocean is furious, as if it wants to take back the land,'' said Rodrigo Cubal, 42, standing with his family.
Throughout the capital, trees fell and branches and other debris were scattered across streets and highways.
The outer bands of Wilma flooded evacuated communities along Cuba's southern coast over the weekend while the hurricane clobbered Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The storm passed to Cuba's north Monday on its way to landfall in southern Florida.
Flooding and high winds Monday caused heavy damage to houses in the northern coastal community of Baracoa, just east of Havana.
In Mariel, a port east of Havana, people stood outside their homes watching as huge waves rolled in one after another. ``I've never seen waves like this,'' said 30-year-old Joelsis Calderin.
The government shut off electricity throughout Havana and the island's western region before dawn in a standard safety precaution. Power remained out in most of the capital at midafternoon.
Wilma soaks western Cuba
HAVANA, Cuba 23 October: Hurricane Wilma drenched western Cuba with heavy rains Sunday and flooded evacuated communities along the island's southern coast after clobbering Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and taking aim on storm-weary Florida.
President Fidel Castro appeared on television to calm Cubans anticipating increased winds and potential overnight flooding on the northern coast. He also offered doctors to Mexico to help the neighboring nation recover from the natural disaster.
"It's the appropriate time to offer the people of Mexico the support they need," he said late Sunday on Cuban TV public affairs program "Mesa Redonda," or "Round Table."
Cuba has recently sent 400 doctors to Guatemala after Hurricane Stan's devastating passage through Central America, as well as some 200 doctors to Pakistan after the October 8 earthquake that killed tens of thousands.
Castro praised the island's efficiency in hurricane preparation, saying that despite scarce resources, Cuba has become internationally recognized as "a model country that protects the lives of its citizens."
Cuba prides itself on saving lives during frequent hurricanes affecting the island, and its civil defense plans have been held up by the United Nations as a model for other nations. Mandatory, widespread evacuations are common and face little resistance.
The government in recent days evacuated more than 625,000 people, particularly in the island's west, as Wilma stalled off the Yucatan coast.
Some people were ordered by civil defense officials to leave their homes as early as Wednesday, with most staying with friends and relatives, and the rest at shelters set up at schools and other government buildings.
Cuban state television reported Sunday that the ocean had penetrated up to 2/3 of a mile (1 kilometer) in some southern coastal communities.
Guanimar, a small fishing village of brightly painted wooden houses due south of Havana, was totally under water Sunday, with floodwaters as high as 3 feet in some places. The community frequently floods during hurricanes and its several hundred residents were evacuated as a precaution in recent days.
In another southern coastal community, Playa Cajio, the penetrating sea carried numerous fish up onto the main highway, state television said.
Earlier in the day, Cuba's communist youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde declared "The Worst is Yet to Come" in a headline in its Sunday edition.
Rainfall of up to 15 inches (38 centimeters) was possible in some parts of western Cuba when Wilma passed the island, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
Cuban authorities were especially worried about coastal flooding across the northern coast of the island's western provinces of Pinar del Rio and Havana starting late Sunday and continuing into Monday.
One key point of concern was Havana's Malecon seawall, which high waves can spill over during hurricanes and flood the adjacent coastal highway and neighborhoods of old, multistoried buildings.
Alcohol sales in Havana, home to 2 million people, were shut down Sunday afternoon, and all stores closed. Local civil defense officials said the government would switch off electricity in Havana -- a standard safety procedure -- if Wilma's high winds were considered dangerous to the capital.
Wilma was not expected to make landfall in Cuba as it moved past the island's northern coast, but did spin off several tornados over the weekend that left six injured and destroyed more than 20 homes and tobacco curing houses in the country's western tobacco-growing region.
Localized sporadic rains have fallen in western Cuba in recent days, saturating the soil and filling some reservoirs. But especially heavy and continuous rains soaked the region Sunday as Wilma began sideswiping the island's northern coast.
Storms Wilma and Alpha thrashing Caribbean
Havana, Oct 23 (Prensa Latina) Moving faster northeastward, monster hurricane Wilma has started to brush western Cuban on its way to hit Florida directly on Monday, as Alpha, the season´s record 22nd tropical storm, made landfall Sunday in the Dominican Republic.
After bashing the Yucatan Peninsula, the core of hurricane Wilma at 07:00 EST Sunday was located at 90 miles (145 kilometers) north-northeast of Cancun, Mexico; as it heads towards Florida at 8mph (13 km/h) brushing the Cuban north-western coast.
Maximum sustained winds are 100 mph (160 km/h) with higher gusts, making it now a category 2 two hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scaole (of 5), and a strengthening has been forecasted for today and also an increase in its forward speed.
Its hurricane force winds extend outward up to 70 miles (110 kilometers) from the center and tropical storm force winds expand outward up to 200 miles (325 km).
Wilma is expected to produce additional rainfall accumulations of 10 to 15 inches through Sunday across portions of western Cuba and the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula, with isolated maximum storm total amounts approaching 50 inches.
Four tornados were reported late Friday and early Saturday in Cuba´s most western province of Pinar del Rio, where some 270,000 people have been evacuated. Three persons reportedly suffered minor injuries.
Large swells generated by Wilma will continue to propagate into the eastern Gulf of Mexico, causing sea penetrations along the north-western coast in Cuba. They could even reach up to portions of the US Gulf Coast states.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Caribbean, Alpha made landfall near the town of Barahona in the Dominican Republic.
The record 22nd tropical storm is moving toward the northeast at near 14 mph (22 km/h) with maximum sustained winds at 50 mph (85 km/h) with higher gusts and increasing rainfall accumulation.
According to metereologists, Alpha is expected to weaken rapidly and could dissipate over the mountainous terrain of Hispaniola.
100,000s evacuated as Wilma threatens island
Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Oct 21 (AIN) Heavy rains of up to 100 milliliters, wind gusts, and moderate coastal flooding have been reported in western Pinar del Rio province over the past few hours as hurricane Wilma reached Cozumel Island on the Yucatan peninsula.
The western Cuban territory is on maximum alert and nearly 200,000 people have been evacuated by civil defense authorities from low-lying areas andother homes that could be in danger from the storm.
At midday Friday, Wilma's 60-kilometer wide eye was entering Cozumel, 245 kilometers south west of the westernmost tip of Cuba in Pinar del Rio province. The hurricane was moving slowly at 8 kilometers per hour with 230 KPH sustained winds and even stronger gusts.
Meteorologists coincide that Wilma is expected to hover over Cozumel for the next 24 to 48 hours before resuming its movement Sunday most likely on a northeasterly path towards Florida.
Meanwhile, the hurricane's outer bands have already caused heavy rains, while tornados have developed in the towns of Cortes and San Juan y Martinez in Pinar del Rio, where 82-kilometer wind gusts have been reported as well.
Besides Pinar del Rio, Wilma is considered a threat to the provinces of Havana and Havana City where coastal flooding, heavy rains and strong winds are expected to take place when the hurricane resumes on its course along the northern coast of Cuba.
Overall, more than 360,000 people have been evacuated in western Cuba as part of precautionary measures taken to avoid the loss of life. Civil defense authorities have called on the population to take local measures, and abide by all indications given for this kind of emergency situation, both in urban and rural areas.
All international flights by Cuban airline companies have been cancelled in western Cuba as announced by the Civil Aviation Institute in an official note on Friday. The note explains that foreign airline companies will inform their clients through their representatives on the island.
Cubans on full alert for powerful hurricane
Havana 21 Oct: CUBA’s four westernmost provinces awoke today (Thursday) under full hurricane alert, declared by the National Civil Defense authorities, in anticipation of the dangerous proximity of Hurricane Wilma, which is following an uncertain trajectory.
Given that the storm’s clouds and rain will gradually be felt in those areas of central and western Cuba, top Civil Defense authorities declared a full alert for the provinces of Pinar del Río, Havana, City of Havana and the Isle of Youth.
A hurricane alert is also in effect for the western province of Matanzas, while the central provinces of Cienfuegos, Villa Clara and Sancti Spiritus remain in the informative stage.
This could be a long battle, warned one expert during the morning news program, given that Wilma, currently a Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale (which has a maximum of 5), could bounce back toward the northeast through Cuba’s western tip and be felt for several days throughout the country.
Hurricane Wilma weakened during early Thursday, but is expected to gain in strength in the coming hours as it moves toward the Yucatan, reported the Cuban Institute of Meteorology, INSMET.
According to tropical storm warning No. 19, as a Category 4, Wilma ‘s maximum sustained winds have gone down to 240 kilometers per hour with stronger gusts, and its central pressure is at 900 hectoPascal.
According to INSMET, at 06:00 local time, Wilma was located at 18.3 degrees latitude north and 85.1 degrees longitude west, some 400 kilometers south of Cape San Antonio in Cuba and about 315 kilometers southeast of Cozumel in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.
It is forecast that over the next 12-14 hours, the system will continue to follow the same path and incline its trajectory more towards the northwest, at a similar speed, although there could be fluctuations in its intensity and it could attain a Category 5 again during today.
Cloud and rain associated with the outer bands of this phenomenon will continue over Cuba during the coming hours, particularly over the central and western provinces, and could be occasionally strong and locally intense in mountainous areas.
Likewise, high waves dangerous for navigation will persist along the southern coast of western Cuba and the Isle of Youth, with coastal flooding in low-lying areas. Swells will also continue along the north-western coast, dangerous for small seacraft.
The Cuban media is planning continuous coverage on Wilma’s status and possible route, and is urging the population to be prepared and to follow the directions of Civil Defense, as well as the disciplined implementation of protective measures.
Since yesterday, about 100,000 people have been evacuated in Cuba, according to the National Defense Council’s Disaster Office. Of those evacuated, 84,990 were in the western region, and 11,000 in the east.
Up until now, 992 leadership bodies have been activated, 610 shelters have been readied, and 440 food preparation centers are in operation, and more than 57,000 troops have been mobilized, along with 2,000 vehicles and almost 700 communication units.
In its slow path towards the northeastern Caribbean Sea, Wilma registered the lowest atmospheric pressure ever recorded in history for an Atlantic Basin hurricane – 882 hectoPascal.
Havana, 20 Oct: RESIDENTS of western Cuba awoke today to an official hurricane alert, declared in anticipation of the powerful Hurricane Wilma, which has reached the maximum of Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale in record time.
In an 06:00 (local time) report, the Cuban Institute of Meteorology stated that Hurricane Wilma had intensified and that its maximum sustained winds had reached 280 kilometers per hour, with stronger gusts.
Its central pressure had dropped to 884 hectoPascal, making it a Category 5, the report said.
At 6 a.m, its center was estimated to be at 17.2 degrees latitude north and 82.6 degrees longitude west, a position that located it about 143 kilometers south-southeast of the Grand Cayman Islands in the western Caribbean Sea and about 590 kilometers southeast of Cozumel.
As a result, Cuba’s National Civil Defense authorities have declared a hurricane alert for the provinces of Pinar del Río, Havana, City of Havana, Matanzas and the special municipality of the Isle of Youth (a small islet south of the region).
The Civil Defense also declared an Informative Stage for the provinces of Cienfuegos, Villa Clara and Sancti Spíritus, in central Cuba.
According to its forecast trajectory, within 48 to 72 hours, the hurricane could pass very close to Cuba’s western tip and even touch land at some point in that region.
In line with its experience of these storms, the country has adopted the necessary measures to guarantee the people’s safety and minimize damages to the economy.
Evacuation plans went into operation Tuesday, with a special emphasis on families who live in areas below the levels of the country’s reservoirs, coastal zones and areas prone to flooding.
Measures adopted include transferring students from boarding schools to their homes and suspending classes, as audiovisual and other school equipment was stored for protection and shelters for evacuees were being prepared in school facilities.
In agriculture and other industries, measures were being taken to minimize losses in the event of the hurricane’s passing.
In eastern Cuba, rain associated with Wilma’s outer bands has caused considerable flooding, river overflows, damage to crops and effects on the economic and housing infrastructure.
In several provinces, a significant number of individuals have been evacuated to shelters and to the homes of neighbors and friends.
Wilma is the 12th hurricane of the current season in the northern Atlantic, matching the record set in 1969 for hurricanes in one season.
Havana 118 0ct: Hurricane Wilma, the 12th hefty storm of the Caribbean storm season, doused Cuba with heavy rainfall on Tuesday, prompting the evacuation of thousands of people from the eastern section of the island.
Flooding had occurred in the provinces of Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba und Granma, where landslides were also reported.
About 200 buildings have been damaged, the reports said.
Tropical storm Wilma became the season's 12th hurricane early Tuesday, tying a 1969 record. The National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, expected Wilma to brush by Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula before heading for Florida's west coast in the coming days.