Hurricane Matthew slams eastern Cuba in short dash across the island
HAVANA – Hurricane Matthew made a short, intense dash across the easternmost tip of Cuba yesterday, 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 yesterday 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 140 mph.
Landfall was further east in Guantánamo province than originally forecast, putting more distance between densely populated areas and the US 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.
The centre of the eye of Matthew made landfall again, near Cuba’s sparsely populated eastern tip, around 8 p.m.
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, constant rain.”
Cubadebate, an official Cuban website, reported that a bridge in Imías, between Guantánamo and Baracoa, had fallen.
Cuba had 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.
In advance of the storm, US military cargo planes evacuated 700 family members from the Guantánamo base to a “safe haven” in Pensacola.
Cuban leader Raúl Castro and cabinet members were in eastern Cuba to personally oversee hurricane fortifications and recovery efforts.
Castro told residents of Santiago that recovery plans would begin immediately after Matthew had cleared Cuban territory.
After making landfall last night with no immediate reports of major damage, the centre of the slightly weakened but still powerful Matthew moved back over open waters. A hurricane hunter aircraft found Matthew’s eye was about 35 miles north-northwest of the tip of eastern Cuba before dawn today.