By Anthony Boadle | Reuters
Cubans used machetes to hack away thousands of uprooted trees blocking Havana streets on Friday after a terrifying night of roaring winds from Hurricane Charley brought chaos to the blacked-out city.
Three people died in Havana during the hurricane of causes that are being investigated and four people were injured, one of them seriously, Civil Defense official Lt. Col. Domingo Carretero said on a television newscast.
The storm’s 105-mph winds snapped trees, downed power lines and ripped off roofs in the Cuban capital and the surrounding Havana province countryside.
Government-run television reported 46 partial collapses of houses in colonial-era Old Havana from the three-hour pounding as Charley crossed the narrowest point of the island before heading north to Florida.
President Fidel Castro, facing a disaster on his 78th birthday, appeared for one hour on a live television broadcast from Cuba’s weather center after midnight at the height of the storm and declared “victory” over the hurricane.
“We turn our setbacks into victories,” the bearded leader, dressed in trademark green uniform, said.
But on the western outskirts of the city, which bore the brunt of Charley’s pounding, residents were repairing roofless homes and clearing away debris, garbage and branches.
Main thoroughfares remained blocked by fallen trees and most of the city of 2 million had no power 12 hours after authorities cut off supplies to avoid electrical accidents.
“It was three hours of terrible howling winds. We had no electricity, and no television or radio to know what was happening,” said Orlando Duque, whose clapboard home in the suburb of La Lisa lost part of its roof.
“It seemed the winds would never end. Now we have to rebuild,” said Maricela Almerar, eight months pregnant, as she removed tree branches from her doorway in coastal Santa Fe.
WINDS TOPPLE PALM TREES, POWER TOWERS
The main Fifth Avenue of the leafy neighborhood of Miramar was strewn with royal palm trees yanked out by the hurricane.
Power supplies, vital to cool homes and preserve food in Cuba’s hot summer, are expected to remain down for some time until fallen trees are cleared and downed lines repaired.
A source in the state electricity company said the storm knocked down two high-voltage transmission towers, adding to power shortages caused by the breakdown in May of a major power plant in Matanzas, east of Havana.
Havana residents endured five days without electricity after the last major hurricane to hit the area, Michelle in 2001.
Cubans said the hurricane could have caused far more damage given the precarious state of many buildings in Havana.
Castro, in power since a 1959 revolution, was pleased the full force of the storm did not hit Havana directly, calling it a special “birthday present from nature.”
The Cuban leader put the minimum damage toll down to his communist-run government’s good organization in handing natural disasters. More than 215,000 people were evacuated from dangerous housing in Western Cuba before the storm.
“We know how to do things. It’s not practice, it’s the revolution’s work,” said Jose Antonio Toledo, director of a school used as a shelter.