Storm kills 5 in Cuba, drenches Bahamas
HAVANA -- Vast portions of Cuba were still without power and communications Monday after Hurricane Michelle slammed the island with 130-mph winds, killing at least five people and flooding crops before moving on to strike the Bahamas.
At midday, the storm scoured Andros, New Providence, Bimini and Cat islands in the Bahamas with 85 mph winds. In Nassau, gusts reached 103 mph, and more than 12 inches of rain fell Sunday and Monday, flooding houses and cutting power.
The hurricane, which killed 12 people in Honduras, Nicaragua and Jamaica last week, lost some of its strength as it moved off Cuba, and it left Florida with almost no substantial damage.
A band of showers carrying 3 to 4 inches of rain stayed just off the South Florida coast Monday, although winds gusted up to 48 mph in Miami Beach, 45 mph at Marathon in the Keys and 41 mph in Fort Lauderdale.
"Florida is in great shape. Things are already pretty much back to normal," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "We are getting some strong winds mainly along the coastline, but once you move inland things are fine."
By late afternoon Michelle's winds had dropped to 75 mph, barely hurricane force, and the storm was rapidly moving away from the Bahamas. It was expected to continue to weaken in the next 24 hours.
In Cuba, one of the most powerful storms to strike the island in decades caused at least 23 homes to collapse in Havana, state television reported. More were expected to crumble as they dried out in the sun. The streets of the Cuban capital's colonial district were littered with debris.
Some of Cuba's main sugar-producing provinces were hard hit, with cane fields flooded or destroyed by the high winds, and some sugar mills damaged. Banana, coffee and citrus crops were also reported damaged.
Reporters who toured rural parts of Matanzas and Villa Clara provinces east of Havana early Monday found hundreds homes damaged but only a few destroyed.
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.
Electricity remained shut down across the western half of the island. It was switched off by the government after Michelle hit Sunday afternoon and swept across the island overnight. The 750,000 people who had been evacuated before the storm still had not been allowed to return home by Monday afternoon.
Conditions in many parts of Cuba were unknown because communications were nearly completely knocked out, making it difficult even for the government 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 Monday afternoon, Cuba's National Defense confirmed five deaths.
Four people were killed in building collapses: a 32-year-old woman in Havana's Arroyo Grande neighborhood; a 39-year-old man in the provincial capital of Matanzas; and a 33-year-old man and a 98-year-old woman in Jaguey Grande, in Matanzas province. A 60-year-old man drowned in Playa Larga on the coast in Matanzas, where Michelle made landfall.
President Fidel Castro toured several affected regions Monday and stopped at the home of Elian Gonzalez, the boy at the center of a highly politicized child custody battle last year involving the United States. Elian lives in Cardenas, in Matanzas province. In the Bahamas, the hurricane unleashed high winds and sheets of rain early Monday.
"We have a car outside that is underwater," said Jackie Albury, standing in knee-deep water in her house in Nassau, her pants rolled up and some boxes floating by. "We have taken everything up to the second story."
A group of people were being evacuated from low-lying Cat Island, east of Nassau, the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association said.
"I didn't know it would be this bad," said Mavis Turnquest, who drove to a hurricane shelter with blankets, food, and her Bible in her car. "I can only trust in God."
There were no reports of deaths in the Bahamas, but Michelle's winds ripped roofs off several wooden houses and tore down traffic lights. At the Nassau International Airport, some small planes were overturned and thrown across the tarmac.
In Florida, floodwaters receded from Key West's oceanfront highway on the south side off the island, leaving piles of sand and other storm debris for crews to clean up, as residents and tourists evacuated from the Keys were allowed to return home.
To the north, Miami-Dade and Broward counties also began to clean up, as white-capped waves began receding from area beaches. Schools were closed Monday but expected to reopen today.
Elsewhere in the tropics, Hurricane Noel sprouted in the Atlantic with 75 mph winds Monday. The eighth hurricane of the storm season was expected to speed up, gradually weaken and pass close to eastern Newfoundland today, said forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
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From the AP