By VANESSA ARRINGTON | ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
Inhabitants of Batabano, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of Havana, checking all the damage caused by Hurricane Charley after it passed through Cuba on Friday August 13, 2004, Cuba. (AP Photo/Cristobal Herrera)
SURGIDERO DE BATABANO, Cuba—Hurricane Charley claimed at least three lives as it roared across Cuba early Friday, devastating dozens of homes as it swept from this fishing town on the island’s southern coast to Havana in the north.
The storm crossed the Caribbean’s largest island shortly after midnight, with gusts of up to 125 mph reported in some areas. Before reaching Cuba, Charley drenched Jamaica, where one man died.
Lt. Col. Domingo Carretero, head of Cuba’s civil defense, offered no specifics about the deaths except to say they occurred in Havana province. Four other people were injured, Carretero said on state-run television.
At least 65 buildings in Havana neighborhoods collapsed overnight, and more than 500 buildings throughout the capital were affected, civil defense authorities said.
There was extensive flooding in Surgidero de Batabano, a community of makeshift wooden homes punished by 10-foot waves near where Charley made landfall. Hundreds of people earlier evacuated from the town of several thousand returned later Friday to find muddy, waist-high water in their homes.
“I’ve been crying all morning,” said 65-year-old Mercedes Palenzuela. “How can I sleep tonight without a roof, on a soggy mattress?”
Concepcion Arcia, 65, returned to find a collapsed roof, soaked furniture and fish swimming in the structure that had been her home. “Here,” she said, “I encountered the Devil.”
Outside in the flooded streets, children played with fish and floated on plastic foam rafts.
Elsewhere throughout western Cuba, Charley ripped apart roofs, downed power lines and yanked up huge palm trees, throwing them across major thoroughfares and along beaches.
Charley was a Category 2 storm with winds of up to 110 mph when it swept across the Caribbean’s largest island in less than two hours shortly after midnight. Gusts of up to 125 mph were reported in some areas.
“We had to crawl under the bed,” 39-year-old Marlen Perez said of the storm, which ripped chunks of corrugated roof off her modest Havana home. “The wind was howling and I was screaming, `Oh, my God! Oh, my God!’ Pieces of the roof were falling everywhere ... I thought the walls were falling down.”
Charley made landfall shortly after midnight Thursday, then swept northward, reaching the northern coast just west of Havana, population 2.2 million, about two hours later.
More than 200,000 people were evacuated in western and central Cuba as the storm approached and Havana’s international airport and major seaports were closed. Regular operations were expected to resume later Friday.
Only minimal damage was reported in the Cayman Islands, where Charley hit earlier Thursday when it was a much weaker Category 1 storm, with winds at 90 mph.
In Charley’s wake, there were reports of flooding and downed trees that made some roads impassable in parts of Little Cayman, population 150, and a brief power outage in Grand Cayman’s East End.
In Jamaica, 32-year-old farmer Byron Barret died Wednesday night trying to trying to rescue six people from rising flood waters in St. Elizabeth parish on the south coast, officials said.
Flooding in Jamaica left some roads impassable and submerged crops in the southern agricultural region.
Charley was the third named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
Associated Press writer Anita Snow contributed to this report from Havana; Howard Campbell from Jamaica; Nicky Watson from Cayman Brac; and Gretchen Allen from Grand Cayman.