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Last Updated: Friday, 13 August, 2004, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Hurricane Charley slams into Cuba
Fidel Castro appears on Cuban television
Cuban television broadcast continuous updates on the situation
Hurricane Charley has passed through Cuba after gathering strength in the Caribbean and is heading north towards the American state of Florida.

The Cuban authorities say that it caused widespread damage to properties, but reported no fatalities.

The eye of the storm, with winds of up to 165km/h (102mph), passed within 25km (15 miles) of the capital, Havana.

Nearly one million people on Florida's south-west coast have been urged to leave their homes.

State of emergency

About 200,000 people had been evacuated from parts of western Cuba, and tourists have been airlifted from the most vulnerable areas ahead of the storm's arrival.

Hurricane Charley hit Cuba near the port of Batabano, 40km (26 miles) south of Havana at about midnight (0400 GMT).

"The winds are incredibly strong, but there is little rain," a local official told Reuters news agency.

The hurricane took almost three hours to cross Cuba.

It left behind a broad trail of damaged homes and extensive flooding.

Graphic showing hurricane Charley over Cuba

There had been fears that Havana would be badly hit.

The BBC's Stephen Gibbs in the capital said civil defence groups were warning people in the city's many fragile and exposed buildings to prepare to spend the night in shelters.

The hurricane did pass extremely close, but initial impressions suggest that damage is slight.

During the storm's most dangerous hours, all Cubans were instructed to stay indoors.

The streets of the capital were deserted, and the electricity supply was cut.

Flash flooding

The hurricane is expected to gain strength as it travels north through the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida - also hit by a tropical storm - has declared a state of emergency.

Schools and government offices have closed.

"This has the potential of being the one we've all been warning about," Governor Jeb Bush said.

"It's going to cut a swathe through the state that's going to impact millions of people," he added.

Meteorologists say the storm is likely to make landfall near the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa later in the day.

Rainfall of up to 20cm (eight inches) and flash flooding are likely. Charley could also generate tornadoes.

Scientists also say Charley, which is currently categorised as one level below a major hurricane, could soon be upgraded to the highest level.

Officials in Florida's St Petersburg-Clearwater area have told 350,000 people to leave beach areas and mobile home parks.

In the Florida Keys area, tourists and residents were being evacuated from mobile homes.

Residents along Florida's south-western coast have been boarding up their homes and stocking up on water, tinned food and batteries.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Stephen Gibbs reports from Havana
"Cuban authorities are saying there was extensive damage across the island"



SEE ALSO:
Hurricanes boost Nature's chances
22 Apr 04  |  Science/Nature
'Two die' as storm strikes Canada
29 Sep 03  |  Americas
Three dead in Mexico hurricane
23 Sep 03  |  Americas
Bush pledges hurricane aid
23 Sep 03  |  Americas
Vicious circles
22 Aug 99  |  Science/Nature


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