HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 8.- Hurricane Paloma is now poised to strike Cuban territory by 8:00 p.m. (EST). At 6:00 p.m. the eye of the storm was located 15 miles west of Santa Cruz del Sur and 60 miles west-southwest of the city of Camaguey.
Jose Rubiera, Cuba’s chief weather specialist, told a national TV audience that the powerful hurricane would bring a storm surge of around 4.5 meters in the low lying coastal areas around Santa Cruz del Sur. By 6:00 p.m. the sea had already advance 700 meters inland in the Santa Cruz del Sur area.
Civil Defense measures including massive evacuations took place on Friday and Saturday in anticipation of the third major storm to hit Cuba this hurricane season.
Rubiera said the Category 4 storm was still registering maximum sustained winds of 145 MPH late this afternoon, with a sign that it may be slightly weakening.
At 6:20 p.m. the National Hurricane Center in Florida confirmed Rubiera’s prediction, stating the Paloma would most likely touch land with winds of 125 MPH (200 KPH) as a Category 3 hurricane.
Rubiera said the center of the storm is now expected to cross through Camaguey province and possibly exit the island on Sunday near the city of Nuevitas on the north coast of Camaguey. He added that Paloma would gradually weaken in intensity as it moves over land.
Cuba’s Civil Defense network prioritizes citizen protection and people are accustomed to evacuating to more sturdy homes of friends or relatives or government shelters at schools and other public buildings, when life-threatening dangers occur.
A similar late season hurricane on November 9, 1932 hit in almost the exact same area where Paloma is expected to touch land, causing around three thousands deaths.
As Paloma developed over the last five days, Cuba was still reeling from the damage caused by hurricanes Gustav and Ike between August 31 and Sept. 10. Over 400,000 homes were damaged, including over 60,000 totally destroyed. Losses were also heavy to industries, storage facilities, schools and agriculture.