Storm Batters Cuban Hotels, Sugar Harvest

From Reuters

The storm that hit the East Coast of the United States also lashed Cuba, damaging hotels, factories, farms and thousands of homes and severely disrupting the island's vital sugar harvest, officials said Sunday.

There were varied reports of casualties. One state-run radio station said Saturday that five people were killed, but a Civil Defense statement Sunday put the death toll at three with 70 people injured, three of them seriously.

Havana-based diplomats said powerful winds, rainstorms and huge waves that battered western and central provinces of the Communist-ruled Caribbean island appear to have dealt a heavy blow to Cuba's economic infrastructure.

The same storm swept up the East Coast of the United States over the weekend, killing more than 100 people, closing highways and airports and leaving millions without power from Florida to Maine.

The storm, one of the worst in recent history, struck Cuba at a time when it is already suffering serious shortages of food, fuel and basic goods and sharp cutbacks in public transportation and electrical services.

Cuba's economic crisis results from a recently tightened U.S. trade embargo and the collapse of past trade and aid ties with Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Cuban President Fidel Castro, who personally supervised salvage and rescue operations in Havana, said eight of the island's 14 provinces were hit by the storm. He said there had been severe losses in agriculture, adding, "We have got to work really hard."

Other senior officials described the damage as "a disaster" and said its effects were far worse than a similar storm that battered Havana and the north coast slightly more than a year ago.

Havana suffered the most Saturday. Huge waves whipped up by winds, gusting at times to over 60 m.p.h., surged over the seafront, flooding the city. Several thousand residents were evacuated, including foreign tourists from two major hotels cut off by the floodwaters.

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