Powerful Hurricane Paloma Menaces Cuba

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

For the latest on Hurricane Paloma, visit our Online Hurricane Center.

HAVANA (AP) -- Paloma bore down on Cuba as an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane Saturday as farmers rushed to protect crops and livestock. Former President Fidel Castro warned of new challenges for an island still reeling from two other recent storms.

Paloma's outer rain bands began striking the southern coast of Cuba after the storm knocked out power across much of Grand Cayman Island. A hurricane warning was in effect across the central and eastern provinces of Cuba, and civil defense authorities were overseeing efforts to protect life and property.

"Although it may weaken a bit, we have to pay full attention to this storm," top Cuban meteorologist Jose Rubiera said on state television and radio.

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. State television showed workers warehousing bags of rice, trimming tree branches and clearing out storm drains.

There were no immediate reports of evacuations, but Cuba regularly evacuates large numbers of people for tropical storms and hurricanes - a measure that historically has prevented major loss of life during natural disasters.

In an essay published Saturday in Cuban state media, Fidel Castro said Paloma would surely damage roads and new crops planted after hurricanes Gustav and Ike hit in late August and early September. Those two storms caused an estimated $9.4 billion in damage and destroyed nearly a third of Cuba's crops, causing widespread shortages of fresh produce.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Paloma could weaken slightly but will likely still be a major hurricane when it makes landfall late Saturday or early Sunday with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 mph (178 kph).

On Grand Cayman, the late-season storm downed trees and flooded low-lying areas and ripped roofs off some buildings, but residents appeared to ride out the storm unscathed. Businesses reopened Saturday, 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. Paloma's fierce winds ripped the roofs off some buildings on Cayman Brac, to the east.

Cleva Jackson, a hotel owner on Grand Cayman, said she had been unable to contact relatives in Cayman Brac who sought refuge in an emergency shelter where the roof partially collapsed.

"The roof had caved in and everyone was trying to find shelter in the kitchen, but I haven't heard anything from them," she said. "We just can't get through."

Paloma had top sustained winds near 140 mph (225 kph) with higher gusts Saturday afternoon, and hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 25 miles (35 kilometers) from the center. The hurricane was expected to bring total rainfall accumulations of 5 to 10 inches (12 to 25 centimeters) over the Cayman Islands as well as central and eastern Cuba.

On Saturday afternoon, the storm's center was about 65 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Santa Cruz del Sur, Cuba, and about 105 miles (165 kilometers) southwest of Camaguey. It was moving east-northeast near 9 mph (15 kilometers).

The hurricane center said Paloma could bring battering waves and a life-threatening storm surge of up to 23 feet (7 meters) to parts of Cuba. Rubiera, the Cuban meteorologist, warned residents along the southern coast to be especially vigilant.

A sea surge from a hurricane on a similar path killed up to 3,000 people in Santa Cruz del Sur in 1932.

Forecasters expect Paloma to weaken into a tropical storm after striking the island and then dissipate into a low-pressure system near the Bahamas.

For the latest on Hurricane Paloma, visit our Online Hurricane Center.

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