Tropical storm Andrea’s rains pummeled western Cuba

Tropical Storm Andrea’s heavy rains pounded western Cuba on Wednesday, at the start of a hurricane season expected to be particularly active and only seven months after Hurricane Sandy devastated the eastern end of the island.

Civil Defense officials declared a weather alarm in Pinar Del Rio province through Thursday as a low-pressure system approaching from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula dumped nearly 12 inches of rain in some spots over the previous 24 hours.

Andrea, the first named storm of the hurricane season also triggered a lower-level “alert” for Havana and the adjoining provinces of Artemisa and Mayabeque. Heavy weather also was expected to hit the Isle of Youth off Cuba’s southwestern coast.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center upgraded Andrea to a tropical storm Wednesday afternoon, and the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for parts of western Florida through Thursday evening.

Cuban news media reported some flooding and more than 1,000 people evacuated already Wednesday, mostly along the Cuyaguateje River in Pinar del Rio. Six of the province’s 24 dams are already full, and they stand at an average of 59 percent full.

The provincial town of Las Martinas reported more than 10 inches of rain over 24 hours. The town of Isabel Rubio reported 7.6 inches and rain gauges in Acueducto Sandino, the Cuyaguateje dam and Laguna Grande all reported more than eight inches.

Tobacco leaves stored in the province, Cuba’s top cigar-producing area with 44,500 acres planted, are well protected from the humidity and officials will try to speed up the harvesting of other products, a Pinar del Rio Agriculture Ministry official reported.

Gladys Martínez Verdecia, head of Civil Defense for the province, said one tornado was reported but it only damaged three homes.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast that the hurricane season that began Saturday will be more active than usual, with 13 to 20 named storms and three to six of them major hurricanes. Last year saw 19 named storms but only two major hurricanes.

Hurricane Sandy killed 11 people, damaged the homes of more than 75,000 and caused a reported $2 billion in damages when it swept across eastern Cuba, especially the province and city of Santiago de Cuba on Oct. 25.

Thousands of Santiago residents are still living in shelters or with relatives or friends, sometimes jammed two and three families into a couple of rooms.

Most damaged roofs have been covered with a type of thick paper distributed by the government or tarps donated by Venezuela, residents say, but the Havana government has delivered few of the supplies needed for permanent repairs.

Some families received just 30 roof tiles, one small bag of nails, one sack of cement and some soft lumber likely to rot quickly in Cuba’s humid climate, according to reports from the dissident Cuban Patriotic Union.

Santiago dissident Pedro Montané told El Nuevo Herald that the government appears to be helping those people who suffered only partial damages more than those like himself, who lost his entire roof to Sandy.

“They have given me nothing, nothing,” he said by phone from Santiago. With donations from friends, neighbors and relatives, Montané added, he replaced part of his roof with corrugated zinc sheets but expects many leaks in the next storm.

“There’s no cement, no lumber,” he added, “and the nice red zinc sheets donated by Venezuela can only be seen in the government stores.”

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