By Circles Robinson*
HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 10.- Hurricane Paloma ripped into the southern coast of Camaguey province at Santa Cruz del Sur on Saturday evening and in its trail left hundreds of homes totally destroyed and many more damaged. No casualties have thus far been reported as massive evacuations safeguarded the population.
Civil Defense authorities said Sunday that it will take two or three days to compile precise information on the damage in the affected areas of Central-Eastern Cuban. The population is involved in the clean-up and efforts are underway to restore power and communications.
Paloma came less than 70 days after hurricanes Gustav and Ike damaged over 400,000 homes and devastated agriculture in several Cuban provinces. In Santa Cruz del Sur the storm’s winds provoked a sea surge a mile inland, with the salt water wreaking havoc along the way.
The country had been on a gradual economic rebound from the lean years of the 1990s but is now forced to dedicate precious resources to rebuilding and repairing infrastructure, putting a damper on its ambitious new home building program and other investments.
The Cuban government is considering rebuilding communities further from the coast, believing that Climate Change will continue to make people living close to the sea extremely vulnerable to hurricanes.
A special television program Sunday evening included an aerial video of the devastation in Santa Cruz del Sur and neighboring communities. Considerable farmland was still visibly flooded, damaging short-cycle crops planted to mitigate shortages after hurricane Ike.
Paloma approached Cuba Saturday as a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir Simpson 1-5 scale with 145 MPH (230 KPH) winds. By the time it touched land near Santa Cruz del Sur, nearly 600 kilometers southeast of Havana, it had weakened slightly to a Category 3 storm with 120 MPH winds.
The hardest hit populations were concentrated in the southeast of Camaguey province and the southwest of neighboring Las Tunas.
Santa Cruz del Sur was also the scene of another hurricane exactly 76 years earlier when on Nov. 9, 1932 at least 3,000 died. Cuba’s early warning and comprehensive evacuation systems prevented a repeat of such a disaster.