Hurricane Sandy makes landfall in Cuba

By Fernando Gonzalez

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 25 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

This NOAA satellite image taken Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 at 1:45 a.m. EDT shows Category 2 Hurricane Sandy moving northward across eastern Cuba with sustained wind speeds of 110 mph as weakening Tropical Storm Tony is in the central Atlantic Basin moving ENE with sustained winds of 50 mph.

Associated Press

HOLGUIN, Cuba — Hurricane Sandy rumbled across mountainous eastern Cuba and headed toward the Bahamas on Thursday as a Category 2 storm, bringing heavy rains and blistering winds that ripped the roofs off homes and damaged fragile coffee and tomato crops, but caused no known fatalities on the island.

Two people died elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Even as it pummeled Cuba's rural eastern half, Sandy refused to lose intensity as storms normally do when they cross over land, raising fears that small mountain villages still unheard from might not have been ready for its wrath.

"It crossed the entire eastern region practically without losing intensity or structure," said Jose Rubiera, the island's chief meteorologist.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Sandy emerged off Cuba's northeast coast around dawn and was moving north at 16 mph (26 kph), with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph) as it closed in on the central Bahamas.

Late Thursday morning, it was about 65 miles (110 kilometers) south-southwest of Long Island in the Bahamas.

Schools and government offices were closed across the Bahamas on Thursday and some residents in southern Ragged Island already reported downed tree branches. All airports, seaports and bridges in the Bahamas also will remain closed through Friday, the government announced.

Residents of Siboney, just outside the eastern Cuban city of Santiago, reported waves as high as 32 feet (10 meters), with water coming as far as 115 feet (35 meters) inland. In Santiago itself, tin roofs were ripped off some homes, according to resident Yolanda Tabio, a 64-year-old retiree. She said a small Santiago church called San Antonio Claret was damaged, though there were no casualties.

"We're still wet, cleaning up leaves and branches that the wind brought down," she said. "It was very unpleasant."

Despite that, Cuba's second largest city was spared the worst of the storm's force, which slammed into the provinces of Granma, Holguin and Las Tunas.

Some 5,000 tourists at beach resorts in Holguin were evacuated ahead of the storm, along with 10,200 residents, according to Cuban media. Another 3,000 people in low lying areas of Las Tunas were moved away before Sandy arrived.

State-run media said at least 10 homes fell down in Holguin and that there was damage to coffee and tomato crops in Granma province but not as bad as had been feared.

Residents emerged from their homes early Thursday after a night without power, finding palm trees and some electric poles strewn across roads, blocking traffic.

Norje Pupo, a 66-year-old retiree in Holguin, was helping his son clean up early Thursday after an enormous tree toppled over in his garden.

"The hurricane really hit us hard," he said. "As you can see, we were very affected. The houses are not poorly made here, but some may have been damaged."

Still, Pupo said residents were used to such storms and would take the damage in stride. Cuba's communist government is known for its rapid response to natural disasters, and people on the Caribbean's largest island have long years of experience with hurricanes.

"We'll move forward," Pupo said. "We'll get out of this hole as we have many other times before."

There were no reports of injuries at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, but there were downed trees and power lines and all non-emergency personnel were still confined to their quarters Thursday after a night of heavy wind and rain, said Kelly Wirfel, a base spokeswoman.

Officials canceled a military tribunal session that had been scheduled for Thursday for the prisoner charged in the 2000 attack on the Navy destroyer USS Cole.

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