Floods wallop western Cuba

Heavy rains in westernmost Cuba from what later became Tropical Storm Andrea have destroyed tons of warehoused tobacco leaves, flooded farms and cut electricity to several parts of Pinar del Rio province, according to official reports.

Hardest hit were the municipalities of Mantua and Guane, which received more than 20 inches of rain, and the area around the Cuyaguateje River, which overflowed its shores and reached a record 31.8 feet, according to the provincial El Guerrillero newspaper.

No personal injuries were reported but “there are no low-lying lands that have not been flooded by the repeated rains or the rising rivers,” the national Granma newspaper reported.

More than 400 homes were flooded, forcing ecacuation of 3,000 people to higher ground at one point, according to the reports. The floods also cut off access to 14 towns and damaged more than an estimated 45,000 acres of farmlands.

Known as the home of Cuba’s best tobacco, Pinar del Rio also lost 86 tons of tobacco leaves and seven curing warehouses collapsed. Another 71 curing houses suffered roof damage, the reports noted, hinting at possible humidity problems for the stored leaves.

The reports did not estimate the cost of the damages, but noted that several local residents had said that it was the worst flooding they had seen since Hurricane Alberto in 1982, which left 23 dead in Cuba.

Granma reported one silver lining to the rains: The province’s 24 dams accumulated 187 million cubic meters of water in just six days and currently stand at 83 percent of total capacity. Just three days earlier, they were reported at 59 percent of capacity.

The rains came from a low pressure system that formed off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday and headed north, turning into Hurricane Andrea before it hit Florida’s Big Bend, crossed the state and went up the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

Gladys Martínez Verdecia, president of the Pinar del Rio provincial Civil Defense, was reported in the Cuban media to have urged residents to boil or put chlorine in their drinking water and tighten sanitary measures to avoid the spread of diseases.

Cholera appeared in Cuba for the first time in a century last year after heavy rains in the eastern Bayamo area flooded latrines and contaminated water wells. More cases were reported earlier this week in nearby Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo.

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez tweeted from Santiago on Friday that some buildings still require visitors to wash their hands at bowls of chlorinated water placed at their entryways, “the ghost of cholera that still haunts.”

Read more Cuba stories from the Miami Herald

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