Hurricane Dennis crashes into Cuba

Hurricane Dennis pummelled Cuba on Friday, killing 10 people and displacing 1,5-million others, President Fidel Castro announced, after its fierce winds and heavy rains left another five dead in Haiti.

“It is a very strong category four, almost a category five,” the strongest level on the Saffir-Simpson scale, Cuban Meteorological Institute chief Jose Rubiera said after Dennis made landfall at about 5pm GMT near the central province of Cienfuegos. Winds of up to 240kph were measured.

Cuban authorities had rushed more than 700 000 people into shelters overnight, including at least 2 500 foreign tourists.

At least three provinces sustained serious material damages, a government source said privately. Homes were destroyed and power was knocked out in Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second city on its east end.

Communications towers were toppled and tourist facilities in Santiago province sustained serious damage, the source added.

At 1am GMT on Saturday, the centre of Dennis was located about 75km east-southeast of Havana and 195km south of Key West, Florida, the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre said.
Maximum sustained winds had decreased to about 185kph, making it a category-three storm, but it was still bringing heavy rain and destructive waves.

Forecasters warned Dennis could pass dangerously close to Key West early on Saturday on its way to the Gulf of Mexico, where 116 oil platforms and rigs have been evacuated.

The storm crossed Cuba, population 11-million, over central provinces including La Habana—where the capital, Havana, located—Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Villa Clara and Sancti Spiritus.

About 2,2-million people live in the crowded capital, and 669 shelters were opened in Havana province.

The centre of the powerful hurricane skirted past the eastern tip of Jamaica on Thursday afternoon but dumped rain and flooded roads on the island as well as on parts of southern Haiti.

In Haiti, at least 20 were injured and 30 remain missing in addition to the five killed.

Most of the victims were in the south and south-east of Haiti, where heavy rains caused flooding of cities and destruction of crops in the countryside, according to Jeffe Delorges, a civil-protection spokesperson. About 8 000 people were displaced.

In eastern Jamaica, scores of residents were left stranded by floods, and several bridges were severely damaged, though no deaths were reported there.

Key West evacuated

Meanwhile, thousands of residents evacuated Key West, Florida’s southernmost city, as well as areas along the United States Gulf coast.

Authorities told residents to leave Key West and neighbouring areas, and ordered the evacuation of visitors throughout the Florida Keys, a vulnerable chain of islands linked to the mainland by a series of bridges and a single road.

Thousands of people headed to safety, but the evacuation was slowed by early squalls.

Most hotels, gas stations and stores in Key West shut down and numerous homes and businesses were boarded up.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush on Thursday declared an emergency in the south-eastern US state that was pummelled by four such hurricanes last year.

But Nasa decided to go ahead with plans for Wednesday’s launch of the space shuttle Discovery from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre, hundreds of kilometres north of the hurricane’s projected track.—AFP

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