As Hurricane Irma, a powerful Category 5 storm swirled out in the Atlantic, Cuba kept a watchful eye on how near its future track would take it to the island and instituted its first phase of preparations on Tuesday.
So far Cuban officials and media have been pretty low key about the approach of Irma even though Cuba has a reputation for efficiency in hurricane preparations. In contrast, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for all 67 of Florida’s counties Monday evening well in advance of the hurricane.
The National Civil Defense Staff instituted its so-called informative phase of operations for the provinces of Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Holguín, Las Tunas, Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila, Sancti Spíritus, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara y Matanzas at 3 p.m. Tuesday and said state and economic entities and provincial social organizations should begin to undertake measures outlined in their disaster reduction plans.
The Civil Defense Staff also said that residents of the Havana and Mayabeque provinces should pay close attention to information from Cuba’s Institute of Meteorology (INSMET).
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In comments on the website of Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, some Cubans wondered why Cuba had not undertaken more aggressive preparations already. Was it because the meteorology institute was so sure that Irma’s path wouldn’t affect Cuba, they asked, or should Cuba be making preparations such as collecting as much of the rice harvest and other crops as possible and evacuating tourist areas in the cays along the north coast.
INSMET noted that September is typically one of the rainiest months in Cuba, but this year large sections of the country are experiencing drought.
Although South Florida escaped the brunt of Hurricane Matthew last October, it walloped Cuba’s easternmost tip. With highest sustained winds of 140 mph, Matthew came ashore in a sparsely populated area. Although little Cuban territory was in the path of Matthew, it caused extensive damage in Baracoa when 10 to 13 foot waves crashed ashore and streamed through the streets of the picturesque town of 82,000 people
Neighborhoods up to three blocks from the sea were reduced to rubble, mudslides damaged other homes and a partially collapsed bridge over the Toa River limited access to historic Baracoa, one of the oldest settlements in Cuba. Maisí and Imía in far eastern Cuba also sustained heavy damage from heavy rain and flooding. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated as the storm approached and no deaths were reported as a result of Matthew.