Hurricane Matthew slams eastern Cuba in short dash across the island
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
Hurricane Matthew made a short, intense dash across the easternmost tip
of Cuba Tuesday, toppling trees and power lines, washing out a bridge,
sending waves crashing ashore and pelting communities with torrential rains.
High winds began whipping Cuba late Tuesday afternoon and just before 6
p.m. Matthew’s eye made landfall near Punta Caleta on the sparsely
populated southeastern tip of Cuba. Highest sustained winds were near
Landfall was further east in Guantánamo province than originally
forecast, putting more distance between densely populated areas and the
U.S. Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay than initially anticipated.
Another fortunate break was that the Category 4 hurricane came ashore on
one of the narrowest strips of Cuban territory. Instead of churning
across the island for 12 hours, the eye exited near Baracoa on the
northern coast only about two hours after coming ashore. Trailing
hurricane-force winds were expected to impact the island until about 2
In picturesque Baracoa, which has about 40,000 residents, waves reaching
10 to 13 feet crashed ashore and water streamed down the streets. The
high winds downed many trees and electric wires. Tony Matos Romero, the
head of the municipal defense council, said in a telephone interview
with Cuban national television that the city was pelted by “intense,
Cubadebate, an official Cuban website, reported that a bridge in Imías,
between Guantánamo and Baracoa, had fallen.
José Rubiera, Cuba’s chief hurricane forecaster, said in updates on
Cuban TV that tropical-storm-force winds could affect the island as far
west as Camagüey and Ciego de Avila and storm surges were expected to
batter Cuba’s north coast from the eastern provinces to the central part
of the island. On the southern coast, east of Cabo Cruz, storm surges of
7 to 11 feet were expected.
“We’re very worried. It’s very sad and painful that a hurricane is
arriving and could destroy the little that we have,” Yoandy Beltran
Gamboa said in a phone call from Guantánamo before Matthew hit.
Some of the shelters were filled to capacity. “In the Elena Fuentes
López school, there are people sleeping on the floor and they are not
permitting any more evacuees to enter,” said Beltran, who lives in
Cuba has made extensive storm preparations in eastern provinces from
Camagüey to Guantánamo. More than 300,000 people were evacuated in the
provinces of Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Granma and Las Tunas.
Cuban media reported that 1,300 tourists staying in Camagüey, Granma and
Holguín were transferred to safer areas in the center of the island.
Over the weekend, Cuba also began preparing trains loaded with earth
movers and equipment for power restoration to move into
In advance of the storm, U.S. military cargo planes evacuated 700 family
members from the Guantánamo base to a “safe haven” in Pensacola.
As part of the preparations, the local newspaper Venceremos reported
that authorities had decided to take down antennas, which was affecting
radio, telephone and cell phone transmissions in some areas of eastern Cuba.
More than 350 women in the late stages of their pregnancies were
transferred to three hospitals in Santiago where they can receive
medical attention during Matthew.
Santiago endured a hurricane as recently as Oct. 25, 2012 when Sandy
swept ashore, killing 11 people and damaging 137,000 homes, and that
devastating experience was very much on the minds of Cuban authorities
as they made preparations for Matthew.
“We are safer here than at home. The important thing is to stay alive,”
Inés María Fajardo told Sierra Maestra, the official daily of Santiago,
as she played cards in a Santiago shelter.
But residents of the province of Guantánamo, where nearly half the homes
are reported to be in poor condition, have not experienced a hurricane
in many years. In 1963, Hurricane Flora made landfall about 30 miles
east of Guantánamo Bay with winds of 125 mph.
Cuban leader Raúl Castro and cabinet members were in eastern Cuba to
personally oversee hurricane fortifications and recovery efforts and
Castro told residents of Santiago that recovery plans would begin
immediately after Matthew had cleared Cuban territory.
Source: Hurricane-force winds whip eastern Cuba | In Cuba Today –