Powerful Paloma slams into storm-weary Cuba
Nation still reeling from Ike, Gustav, Fidel Castro says
CAMAGUEY, Cuba - Powerful Hurricane Paloma slammed into southern Cuba yesterday as authorities scrambled to move hundreds of thousands of people to safer ground and protect crops on an island still reeling from two storms.
Paloma made landfall near Santa Cruz del Sur as an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm, but quickly weakened into a still-ferocious Category 3 with winds of 120 miles per hour and torrential rains, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
In the central-eastern province of Camaguey alone, more than 220,000 people were moved from low-lying, vulnerable areas to higher ground. Another 170,000 people were evacuated in the eastern province of Las Tunas.
The late-season storm was projected to plow over the island before heading into the Atlantic today.
Former president Fidel Castro warned that Paloma would damage roads and new crops planted after hurricanes Gustav and Ike hit in late August and early September, causing an estimated $9.4 billion in damage and destroyed nearly a third of Cuba's crops.
Cuba's National Information Agency reported that poultry and pork operations were being secured and crops protected in the eastern provinces of Camaguey and Santiago.
Workers yesterday warehoused bags of rice, trimming tree branches, and clearing out storm drains. Bus and train transportation across central and eastern Cuba was suspended.
There were no other immediate reports of evacuations, but Cuba regularly moves large numbers of people for tropical storms and hurricanes - a measure that has prevented major loss of life during natural disasters.
In an essay published yesterday in Cuban state media, Castro warned that Paloma could further damage a farm sector already battered by storms that caused widespread shortages of fresh produce.
The hurricane center said Paloma was moving northeast at nearly 10 miles per hour. Forecasters said the storm reached Cuba as one of the strongest November hurricanes in the region since 1999. Earlier, Paloma battered the Cayman Islands, downing trees and flooding low-lying areas, but residents appeared to ride out the storm unscathed. Businesses reopened yesterday, and authorities were restoring power and water service.
Donovan Ebanks, chairman of the Hazard Management Committee, said there were no reports of injuries.
"Our indications are that there has been minimal if any damage on Grand Cayman," Ebanks said.