Hurricane Sandy made landfall yesterday just west of Santiago de Cuba in southern Cuba, where residents boarded over windows and cleared drainage gutters ahead of the strengthening storm that had roared across Jamaica and left two dead in the Caribbean.
The US National Hurricane Center said the storm hit Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 183kph. The Miami center said that Sandy, which had strengthened to a category two hurricane, was located just inland over southeastern Cuba and moving north, northeast at 24kph, and is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves through the Bahamas.
The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was expected to pass to the west of the US naval base at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, where pre-trial hearings were being held for a suspect in the deadly 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen. The military warned the 5,500 people living on the US base to be ready for the storm. Officials said there was no threat to the 166 prisoners.
The hurricane center said after Cuba, Sandy would pass over the Bahamas. It might bring tropical storm conditions along the southeastern Florida coast, the Upper Keys and Florida Bay by this morning. Cuba’s government, known for its quick response to natural disasters, announced the evacuation of about 450 tourists from beach resorts near Santiago, according to Cuban state media, though hotel workers said they were not expecting any major problems.
Sandy “is a complex of strong rains, very intense,” said civil defense Colonel Miguel Angel Puig, adding that the rains could affect 200,000 people in Cuba.
The US hurricane center had said Sandy is expected to produce total rainfall of 15cm to 30cm across Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and eastern Cuba.
“These rains may produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides, especially in areas of mountainous terrain,” the center said.
Eastern Cuba is mountainous and home to independent and state farms growing yucca, sugar, corn, coffee and fruit, among other crops.
Fishermen on the Gulf of Guaranayabo, where Manzanillo is located, moved their boats to safer ground.
People in Manzanillo, a city of 132,000 about 750km east of Havana, said they were worried about the impact, particularly after a wet summer that left sub-soils saturated.
“Given the condition of my house, I don’t know if it will withstand the force of a hurricane, but we are prepared,” said Emiliano Lopez, a 62-year-old who lives near Manzanillo’s seaside boulevard.
In Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city, tourist hotels prepared by getting generators ready and closing off some outdoor spaces and pools. Guests were being kept informed, but there were no evacuations other than from the beach resorts.
“We’re well prepared for the storm,” said Mayte Cuesta, an employee of the Hotel Melia Santiago. “It will affect us, but we don’t think there is any danger.”