BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: World: Americas
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Monday, 5 November, 2001, 19:12 GMT
Cuba's clean-up begins
A car drives through a rainstorm created by Hurricane Michelle
Cuba was battered by winds of up to 200km/h
By the BBC's Daniel Schweimler in Havana

Cubans are emerging from their homes to assess the damage caused to the island by Hurricane Michelle.

The hurricane, now reduced from a Category 4 to a Category 3 storm, is heading towards the Bahamas.

It hit the southern coast of Cuba on Sunday night, taking several hours to cross the island. It brought with it winds of over 200km an hour and heavy rain, and left five dead, according to civil defence officials.

Huge waves continued to crash on the shore hours after the hurricane had passed.

Early on Monday morning the Cuban authorities said the state of alert declared throughout much of the island was now over and the recovery phase had begun.

Fallen trees and tree branches were being cleared from roads and electricity and gas supplies slowly restored.

Many areas, including the capital, Havana, spent the storm and several hours afterwards without gas, electricity and telephone lines.

International and national flights as well as public transport across the island were suspended.

Damage assessment

Huge areas of agricultural land, mostly across the centre of the island, were devastated and the task of assessing the damage to buildings is only now beginning.

Men board up a house in Havana, Cuba
Civil planning kept casualties to a minimum
Casualties appear to have been kept to a minimum, largely thanks to the enormous government civil defence operation which was started several days before the hurricane hit and is likely to continue for several more days.

More than 600,000 people were moved from vulnerable regions, mainly along the coast or low-lying isolated rural areas.

The whole 5,500 population of the southern fishing town of Surgidero de Batabano was evacuated. Hurricane Lili completely flooded the town five years ago, destroying hundreds of homes.

"I really don't want the hurricane to come through again," said one resident, Jose Luis Olivera, 37, who lives there with his pregnant wife and daughter.

People living in fragile housing in Havana, many of them in the colonial centre of the city, were also taken to safe shelters.

Hundreds of thousands of animals were moved because Cuba, with its fragile economy, can ill afford to lose them.

Government action

Cubans were urged to stay in their homes during the storm where they watched constant television coverage of the approach of Hurricane Michelle. When the power went, they switched to transistor radios.

The authorities gave out constant advice on storing food and boiling water, on how to protect houses and other security measures. Their aim was also to reassure as well as to protect the population.

President Fidel Castro oversaw some of the operation. He praised the Cuban people for what he called their organisation and unity.

The economic cost of Hurricane Michelle to the Cuban economy will be huge. The timing could not have been worse as the country is struggling to cope with a huge drop in tourism, its main foreign currency earner, following the 11 September attacks on the United States.

But the communist government in Cuba has always placed the emphasis on people rather than profit and its operation, in those terms, to limit the damage caused by Hurricane Michelle appears at this stage to have been a considerable success.

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories