Tuesday, November 6, 2001

HAVANA Vast portions of Cuba were still without power and communications yesterday after Hurricane Michelle swept across the island overnight, killing at least five persons and flooding crops before moving on to strike the Bahamas.
The hurricane, which killed 12 persons in Honduras, Nicaragua and Jamaica last week, lost some of its strength as it moved off Cuba and left Florida virtually untouched.
Rivers of rain and surging seawater flowed through downtown Nassau as Michelle ripped across the far-flung archipelago of 700 islands and 280,000 people, downing trees and power lines. Bahamian authorities reported no major damage from a storm that lost much of its punch after passing over Cuba.
When Michelle made landfall in Cuba on Sunday, its winds were estimated at 130 mph.
The storm caused at least 23 homes to collapse in Havana, state television reported. More were expected to crumble as they dried out in the sun. By yesterday, the streets of the Cuban capital’s colonial district were littered with debris.
Reporters who toured rural parts of Matanzas and Villa Clara provinces east of Havana early yesterday found hundreds of homes damaged but only a few destroyed.
“We were rebuilding the house,” Jose Ramon Pedrozo said quietly as he tried to rescue a few wooden planks that once formed part of his modest home in Solis Viejo, a small town in hard-hit Matanzas. “Now we’re going to start all over.”
The narrow streets in Solis Viejo and other small towns in the central Cuban region were littered with palm branches and tiles blown off buildings. Downed utility poles lay scattered in parks and front yards.
Switched off by the government after Michelle hit Sunday afternoon, 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 yesterday afternoon.
Conditions in many parts of Cuba were unknown because communications were nearly completely knocked out, making it difficult for the government even to assess the damage.
Michelle created an 18-foot storm surge on the island of Cayo Largo off Cuba’s south coast Sunday, but there was no immediate word on damage there.
In a state television broadcast early yesterday afternoon, Cuba’s National Defense confirmed five deaths.
Javier Godinez, a bartender at the historic Dos Hermanos tavern on Old Havana’s waterfront, said he and several others braved the storm inside the building, the wind lashing against the banging metal shutters.
Havana housewife Nimar Herrera Perez, 63, was sweeping water off a sidewalk in front of her home, whose walls are 3 feet thick.
“These walls are good and strong,” Mrs. 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,” Mrs. Herrera explained.
By yesterday morning the rain had stopped across most of Cuba, but as Michelle moved northeast, there were reports of heavy downpours in the easternmost provinces of Santiago and Guantanamo.

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