August 31, 2008 / 7:25 PM / 9 years ago

Cuba licks wounds after Hurricane Gustav

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Hurricane Gustav left a swath of devastation across Cuba’s western province of Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth, residents and eye-witnesses in the communist-ruled island reported on Sunday.

No deaths had been reported as of Sunday afternoon, however, a full day after the storm packing 145 mph (230 kph) winds crossed Cuba.

Gustav had already killed at least 86 people in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica.

"High tension towers were twisted and down, roofs blown off entire towns, schools destroyed and in Palacios even the baseball stadium’s walls were gone," Reuters TV cameraman Heriberto Rodriguez said.

Residents could be seen crying over the foundations of their homes or wandering around aimlessly.

There was little information from the Isle of Youth, 40 miles (64 km) off the southwestern coast, which was raked by Gustav before it made landfall in the southern coast town of Palacios.

State television showed pictures of destroyed homes, submerged factories and boats lifted from their moorings and left in city streets.

The storms 150 mph (240 kph) winds scattered trees and telephone poles like toothpicks. The 800,000 residents of Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth remained without power on Sunday, as did many of the more than three million residents of adjoining Havana province and the capital.

Where Gustav’s eye hit nothing stood. Up to 100 miles (160 km) to the east in Matanza, wind gusts downed trees and damaged buildings, telephone and electricity lines.

The city of Havana’s streets were littered with branches, shrubs, trees and light poles.

Wind and rains damaged banana plantations and other crops in Havana province, the capital’s bread basket.

Damage to recently harvested tobacco in Pinar del Rio, the heart of Cuba’s prized industry, was still being tallied.

The Cuban weather service said one of its stations measured a gust of 204 mph (340 kph), the highest ever recorded.

The government reported some minor injuries. But hurricane deaths are rare in Cuba, where evacuations are well-organized and begin early.

There were no reports of damage to the country’s sugar and coffee crops and local experts said Pinar del Rio was not a big producer of either commodity. (Editing by Tom Brown and Alan Elsner)

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