Is­land pre­pared for Hur­ri­cane Matthew’s fury

China Daily (USA) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Guan­tanamo, Cuba

Hur­ri­cane Matthew be­gan pound­ing Cuba late on Tues­day, but res­i­dents of the is­land were largely calm, highly pre­pared after weath­er­ing pre­vi­ous storms.

De­serted roads and un­lit street lamps felt any­thing but nor­mal, how­ever, shortly be­fore the storm made land­fall late on Tues­day af­ter­noon.

Gov­ern­ment and civil pro­tec­tion agen­cies placed on high alert in the is­land nation’s four east­ern re­gions had mo­bi­lized to co­or­di­nate more than 1.3 mil­lion vol­un­tary evac­u­a­tions and pre­pare shops, shel­ters and food dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters with sup­plies.

Roberto Gates was one of the few res­i­dents in the city of Guan­tanamo — pop­u­la­tion 201,000— who dared ven­ture out­side as a driz­zle cooled what would have been a swel­ter­ing Oc­to­ber day.

“I have food for to­day and to­mor­row, and then we’ll see,” the 63-year old said on his way to buy rum.

Head­ing north at a speed of 17 kilo­me­ters per hour, the hur­ri­cane was “ex­tremely dan­ger­ous”, with top winds of 220 kilo­me­ters after hit­ting east­ern Cuba around 2200 GMT, the Cuban weather ser­vice said. It is set to move past the is­land dur­ing the night

The au­thor­i­ties re­ported sig­nif­i­cant flood­ing and waves up to five me­ters in coastal vil­lages in the east — but no ca­su­al­ties so far.

Cuba’s in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized pre­ven­tion and alert sys­tem is be­ing tested again after the is­land was se­ri­ously bat­tered by Hur­ri­cane Sandy four years ago. Eleven peo­ple died, some in­side col­lapsed houses.

Local me­dia and many of­fi­cials have spent the past 48 hours track­ing the hur­ri­cane’s progress.

Ex­em­plary prepa­ra­tion

“The Cubans have shown an ex­em­plary level of prepa­ra­tion,” said Jerome Faure, direc­tor of Cuba Ox­fam, one of the few in­ter­na­tional NGOs here.

“It’s enough to look at the num­ber of lives saved dur­ing pre­vi­ous storms” com­pared to other coun­tries in the re­gion.

With top winds ex­ceed­ing 220 kilo­me­ters per hour, Matthew is a Cat­e­gory Four storm on the five-point Saf­firscale. Sandy was clas­si­fied as Cat­e­gory Three when it crossed the is­land.

Guan­tanamo res­i­dents were urged to pro­tect their win­dows with ad­he­sive tape and card­board, block their doors with iron rods and re­in­force tin roofs with sand­bags.

Alexis Vigo, an un­em­ployed 45-year-old who lives with his mother, Bar­bara, in a colo­nial-style house built in 1968, said he felt “safe”.

“But if it things go wrong,” he added, “we can evac­u­ate.”

His mother, 73, was more anx­ious. She planned to swal­low a pill to calm her nerves and “light a can­dle and pray when the wind blows.”

Matthew is the 12th ma­jor hur­ri­cane to hit Cuba since early 2000. In 2005, Den­nis — Cat­e­gory Three and Four — killed 16 peo­ple on the is­land.

YAMIL LAGE / AFP

Res­i­dents of Ce­cilia, in Guan­tanamo prov­ince, Cuba, are evac­u­ated on Mon­day as Hur­ri­cane Matthew claimed its first two vic­tims in Haiti.

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