5 dead in Cuba from Hurricane Michelle

Monday, November 5, 2001

Associated Press WriterHAVANA (AP) -- Hurricane Michelle whipped through Cuba overnight, killing at least five people, uprooting crops and knocking out power, authorities said Monday. The storm later weakened somewhat, brushing Florida with its outer winds and then hitting the Bahamas.

A day after hitting Cuba with 130 mph winds, Michelle swept past the Bahamas capital of Nassau on Monday with 85 mph winds, flooding houses and cutting power.

The storm, which also killed 12 people in Honduras, Nicaragua and Jamaica last week, left Florida virtually untouched. A tropical storm warning was lifted Monday afternoon for the Atlantic coast from the Upper Keys the West Palm Beach area. A gale warning remained posted from that area to just south of Cape Canaveral.

Cuba's National Defense confirmed the five deaths during an early afternoon broadcast on state television.

Four were killed in building collapses: a 32-year-old woman in the Havana neighborhood of Arroyo Grande; a 39-year-old man in the provincial capital of Matanzas; and a 33-year-old man and a 98-year-old woman in Jaguay Grande, in central Matanzas province. A 60-year-old man drowned in Playa Larga on the coast of Matanzas, where Michelle made landfall in Cuba on Sunday afternoon.

The storm caused 23 homes to collapsed in Havana, state television reported, saying that more were expected to crumble as they dried out in the sun.

Electricity remained shut down across the western half of the island. The 750,000 people who had been evacuated before the storm still had not been allowed to return home by early Monday afternoon.

Conditions in the rest of Cuba were unclear because communications were nearly completely knocked out. President Fidel Castro said he had received an unconfirmed report that a person was killed in Havana when a balcony collapsed, but there were no other reports of deaths or injuries.

Cuba evacuated 750,000 people and shut down power for much of the island ahead of the storm. By Monday, the streets of Havana's colonial district were littered with debris.

Speaking Sunday night, Castro said extensive damage to Cuban crops was likely.

The hurricane "surely has done damage to all agriculture -- to sugarcane, to forests, to plantains," Castro said. "It's another blow ... but it would have been worse if it had passed over the capital."

Castro spoke with reporters after greeting Canadian and European tourists sleeping on sofas and mattresses in the lobby of several hotels in Varadero, Cuba's most important beach resort.

Javier Godinez, a bartender at the historic Dos Hermanos tavern on Old Havana's waterfront, said he and several other people braved the storm inside the building to help protect it, listening as the wind banged against the metal shutters covering the windows. Godinez said he had been more concerned about the mother of his young son, who stayed at home.

"She was very worried, but in the end everything turned out all right," Godinez said.

Havana housewife Nimar Herrera Perez, 63, was sweeping water off a sidewalk in front of her home, which had walls three feet thick.

"These walls are good and strong," Herrera said. "You don't feel anything inside."

An elderly neighbor stopped by, complaining that Cubans' daily bread ration had not arrived. "They gave out two rolls yesterday, because of the storm," Herrera said.

By Monday morning the rain had stopped in most of Cuba, but there were reports of heavy downpours in Cuba's easternmost provinces of Santiago and Guantanamo as Michelle moved to the northeast.

Michelle's sustained winds were expected to keep declining. At 1 p.m. EST, the storm was heading through the Bahamas. It was centered about 45 miles east of Nassau, the capital, after approaching from the southwest.

The hurricane unleashed stinging winds and sheets of rain on the Bahamas early Monday.

"We have a car outside that is underwater," said Nassau resident Jackie Albury, standing in knee-deep water in her house, her pants rolled up and a few boxes floating by. "We have taken everything up on the second story."

A group of people were being evacuated from low-lying Cat Island, to the east of Nassau, the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association said.

"I didn't know it would be this bad," said Mavis Turnquest, who drove to a hurricane shelter with blankets, food, and her Bible in her car. "I can only trust in God."

Castro noted that Michelle entered Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, on the southern Zapata Peninsula, comparing the hurricane to the invasion by a CIA-funded army of exiles that landed there in a botched attempt to overthrow him 40 years ago.

Evacuations are mandatory in Cuba's civil defense system, which was designed during the Cold War to repel military attacks.

Michelle created an 18-foot storm surge on the outlying island of Cayo Largo on Cuba's south coast Sunday, but there was no immediate word on what damage it caused.

The storm battered central-western Cuba during the day with sustained winds of 125 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Ten to 20 inches of rain fell in four days before ending late Sunday.

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