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BBC Weather

Monday, 5 November, 2001, 10:59 GMT
Hurricane Michelle batters Cuba
A man struggles with his bike in the town of Jaguey Grande, 100 miles south-east of Havana
All Cuba's public transport has been suspended
Hurricane Michelle is losing strength as it tears through Cuba, but its winds and rains have caused mass evacuations, floods, and huge tidal surges.

Gusts of wind up to 120 kilometres per hour (75mph) were recorded in the capital Havana, as the island faced its most powerful hurricane for more than 50 years.

The whole of Havana is in total darkness, everyone is using candles

Havana resident
The Cuban authorities have evacuated at least 700,000 people from low-lying areas.

But the force of the hurricane has been downgraded from four to three - on a scale from one to five - as it slowed over Cuba's central mountains.

Tourists have been taken from resorts to hotels in the capital, and student camps on the southern Zapata peninsula have been evacuated.

Click here to see the current position of the hurricane

All national and international flights have been cancelled and public transport suspended.

Electricity in the capital has been cut off to avoid accidents with falling power cables.

"The whole of Havana is in total darkness, everyone is using candles," one resident said.

Reports say that large areas of agricultural land, especially in the west and centre of the country, have been devastated and homes have been damaged.

There is also severe flooding, mostly in coastal areas. The state television, running on emergency generators, spoke of medical workers wading knee-deep through sea water in Havana's main hospital.

Successful preparation

But there are few reports of casualties. The BBC correspondent in Havana, Daniel Schweimler, says this is probably thanks to the huge civil defence operation launched by the Cuban authorities over the past few days.

Woman and waves
Waves have started to lash the Florida Keys
"Don't worry, we'll survive the hurricane. We're well prepared," Cuban President Fidel Castro told his public. "Fortunately [the hurricane] crossed rapidly."

As Hurricane Michelle clears Cuba on Monday, it could hit the southern tip of Florida, before heading out towards the Bahamas.

In Florida, Governor Jeb Bush has declared a state of emergency, and residents in the Florida Keys and South Florida have been advised to evacuate their homes.

Homes and businesses are already being boarded up in southern Florida, and people are being told to stock up on food.

Wreaking havoc

Earlier, Hurricane Michelle led to the deaths of at least 12 people in Central America, as heavy rains flooded rivers and caused mudslides.

Thousands of residents of the Atlantic coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua have been left homeless.

Ten people were confirmed dead in Honduras, where some coastal areas received half their usual annual rainfall in five days last week.

Atlantic coast residents were reportedly trapped for days on rooftops or patches of high ground, and some were said to be surviving on the carcasses of drowned farm animals.

In Nicaragua, officials say some 10,000 people have been made homeless by the hurricane.

The two countries are still struggling to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, when some 20,000 people were killed in the region, and more than six billion dollars' worth of damage was caused.

Back to story

The BBC's Richard Bilton
"It is the worst storm Cuba has seen for half a century"
See also:

05 Nov 01 | Americas
Cuba's clean-up begins
10 Oct 01 | Americas
Belize surveys hurricane aftermath
07 Oct 01 | Americas
Hurricane Iris threatens Caribbean
28 Sep 01 | Americas
Mexico's deadly hurricane eases
18 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Nature's lethal weapons
19 Feb 00 | Washington 2000
Decades of major hurricanes ahead
17 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
Hurricanes set to grow fiercer
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