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Last Updated: Friday, 28 October 2005, 04:09 GMT 05:09 UK
Cuba accepts US hurricane offer
People wading through flood waters in Havana
Havana residents struggled with knee-deep waters
Cuba has accepted a US offer to send a disaster team to help with Hurricane Wilma - the first time in decades that Cuba has said yes to such an offer.

A three-member disaster assessment team is set to go to the Cuban capital Havana, the US state department said.

Cuban President Fidel Castro confirmed that Cuba did not object to the US visit, but said the country was not appealing for international aid.

The two have not had diplomatic ties since Fidel Castro took power in 1959.

The US has maintained a strict economic embargo in response to Cuba's communist policies. It rejected Havana's offer of medical help after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in August.

Rejected aid offers

Hurricane Wilma destroyed hundreds of homes and left thousands of Cubans without power or running water.

Although 600,000 people were moved away from at-risk areas ahead of the hurricane, the Wilma's ferocity took many by surprise.

Waist-deep water poured into the streets of Havana after the city's sea defences were breached. Hundreds of people had to be rescued as the waters swept inland.

US state department spokesman Seam McCormack said the three-person team would assess what help was needed and the US would funnel any aid through non-governmental organisations.

He said Washington had sent a diplomatic note to Cuba on Tuesday offering help and received a positive response from Havana a day later.

The BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Havana says that although the Cuban government has accepted the idea in principle, there is plenty of room for disagreement in the detail.

President Castro has said the visit should be an opportunity for US and Cuban officials to share ideas regarding natural disasters.

Cuba thanked but turned down US offers of help following Hurricane Dennis in July.


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