Cuba escapes storm with little damage
Campaign News | Thursday, 31 August 2006
U.S. military planes flew over Cuba to help scientists track Tropical Storm Ernesto.
Cuba seems to have gotten off easy from its first hit this hurricane season as Tropical Storm Ernesto, weakened by mountains, brought limited rains to a small area.
The government had evacuated more than 80,000 people in the eastern provinces to prepare for the storm, but Ernesto skirted major population centers and failed to bring downpours that could have forced major rivers or dams to overflow, state media said Monday evening. By late afternoon, Ernesto was off the northern Cuban coast, near the provincial capital of Camaguey in eastern Cuba.
Most affected was the easternmost Guantanamo province, where Ernesto made landfall at Playa Cazonal and where Imias village posted nearly 7 inches of rain by early afternoon. But officials said no deaths were reported and damage in the province was minimal.
In Havana, residents were confident the government would run a tight ship nationwide to move those in danger, house and feed them in shelters and repair possible damage. State TV and radio have been broadcasting storm updates and advisories for days, detailing the projected path and reminding residents to evacuate if needed, stay inside during rains and avoid electric wires thereafter.
Havana residents were used to the drill, and none expected Ernesto to hit their northwestern city.
Communist-led Cuba takes pride in its hurricane preparation, with evacuations routinely ordered to reduce casualties.
Cubans moved cattle to higher ground, tourists were evacuated from hotels in the southeastern province of Granma and baseball games, including a pre-Olympic qualifier between the United States and Mexico, were rescheduled for earlier in the day. Train service across the country was also stopped.
US weather forecasters are grateful to Cuba
From the Miami Herald
U.S military planes soared over Cuba this week.
The sorties did not spark any international incidents -- but they did help South Floridians indirectly prepare for Tropical Storm Ernesto.
Between Sunday and Monday, U.S. Air Force C-130 "hurricane hunters" flew into Cuban airspace at least twice a day, sampling storm conditions such as wind speed, barometric pressure and other meteorological measurements.
Despite nearly five decades of tension between the United States and Cuba, storm safety overrode all that.
"We are both in the same business -- we're trying to save people's lives," said Lixion Avila, a Cuban-born hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in West Miami-Dade.
On Tuesday, U.S. forecasters publicly thanked Cuba for granting access to island airspace so they could obtain data vital to tracking Ernesto.
Forecaster Stacy Stewart, who was tracking the storm overnight, tossed in a brief note of appreciation in one of his storm advisories: ``Special thanks to the government of Cuba for permitting the recon aircraft to fly right up to their coastline to gather this critical weather data."
In truth, said John Pavone, who coordinates hurricane hunter flights for the hurricane center, the Cuban government has never had problems with helping out U.S. forecasters.
Civilian WP-3D Orion jets operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration flew in Cuban airspace for years. But their capabilities were limited.
The U.S. Air Force has 10 prop-engine C-130s -- but that branch of the military long had a self-imposed rule barring its aircraft from the COmmunist island's airspace.
"Fidel always said we could come on down," Pavone said. ``But [the Air Force] wouldn't do it."
An old reminder of the rule hangs in Pavone's office: a giant wall map with an offlimits red zone blocked out around the island.
That began to change in 2000 when Max Mayfield became the hurricane center's director.
One of his goals was to improve communications with Cuban meteorologists on storm tracking.
"It helps them and it helps us too," Mayfield said of hurricane hunter flights into Cuban airspace.
Mayfield's international influence also may have helped. He chairs the Regional World Meteorological Organization's Regional Association, which includes 26 members from Caribbean countries, including Cuba.
After Mayfield announced last week that he was retiring in January, he received a heartfelt e-mail of congratulations from José Rubiera, head of Cuba's Institute of Meteorology.
The U.S. State Department eventually saw it Mayfield's way.
Three years ago, C-130s made their first flights into Cuban airspace to help track storms. Their use is not uncommon -- they flew during Katrina last year when it was still a tropical storm.
Now, to request permission to fly weather missions into Cuban airspace, Mayfield sends a request to the State Department, which forwards it to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.
Last Friday, Mayfield sent off the letter, writing that ``interrupting the data flow will be harmful to the track and intensity forecast process."
The data helped forecasters gauge Ernesto's prolonged westward dawdle over the island -- and eventual weakening.
"We knew everything. [Barometric] pressure, maximum wind speed, wind. . . . We knew everything," said forecaster Avila.
Mayfield said he can't remember ever acknowledging Cuba's cooperation on recon flights in writing, but he sees no problem with what Stewart said.
"I'm not sure we've ever thanked them in a public advisory, but it was a nice touch," Mayfield said. ``I've certainly thanked them informally."
Cuba stands up to adversity as Ernesto lands
Cuba 29 August: From one end of Cuba to the other, referred to locally by the names of the eastern and western tips of the island, Maisi Point and Cape San Antonio, the nation once again prepared for the challenges brought on by nature, adopting all necessary measures to keep the possible damage from Tropical Storm Ernesto to a minimum.
Ernesto was making landfall near Santiago de Cuba during Monday morning.
Following the same pattern in all areas of possible flooding, the province of Camaguey has already evacuated 41,064 persons, according to information sent by Granma correspondent Enrique Atienzar.
In Guantanamo province, the Provincial Civil Defense Council gave instructions to monitor and keep constant watch on all the water reservoirs, because they are now at 90 percent of their capacity, a volume not reached since 1994.
According to correspondent Jorge Luis Merencia, all civil defense actions are aimed with the preservation of life as the number one objective. The population was asked to remain informed about the evolution of the storm, and act with discipline in complying with the instructions from Civil Defense authorities. By late evening Sunday the number of evacuated persons had reached 15,785 in Guantanamo.
Meanwhile in Granma province, major evacuation efforts took place in the coastal municipalities of Pilon and Niquero, where according to the meteorologists the effects of tropical storm Ernesto could be first felt, when the cloud pattern with heavy rains will interact with the local mountains.
A totally overcast sky is what the people of Santiago de Cuba are watching as the storm was making landfall at around 8 AM local time (1200 UTC).
According to a report from Orlando Guevara, medical brigades, fuel reserves, as well as enough food reserves were allocated to the communities where flooding usually isolates them when torrential rains fall.
In Las Tunas province all the Civil Defense command posts were activated, and a decision was made to speed up the distribution and sale of food supplies to the population, as well as making available all the recently harvest crops that were ready to be consumed. The evacuation of 20,000 persons from areas of potential danger was also completed ahead of the landfall of the storm.
From Holguin province, in the northeast of the country, correspondent Alexis Roja Aguilera, reported the decision by the Provincial Defense Council to harvest all the crops that could be lost due to the torrential rains and winds that accompany the storm. Shelters were all opened to take in the evacuated persons, and all the people that were vacationing at the many beaches of the area were told to return to their homes and get ready for the upcoming storm. By late Sunday, 77,518 persons were evacuated in Holguin.
The central Cuban provinces are still in the Tropical Storm Alert phase, since 6 p.m. Sunday, and are also getting ready to deal with the bad weather that may be caused by Ernesto as it advances over the country. Specific tasks to carry out the evacuation procedures were assigned in order to preserve lives above all, and in second place protect economic resources in case heavy winds and intense rainfall arrives to the area.
Armando Saez, Granma's correspondent in Cienfuegos, reported the evacuation of more than 9,000 persons that live in low lying coastal areas, while at the same time different crops are being harvested to preserve them from wind and floods damages. The special greenhouses used by Cuban agriculture to achieve high yields were also dismounted in order to avoid damage.
To the West of the Cuban archipelago, people in the City of Havana, the Cuban capital, are working hard cleaning storm drains, roofs, cutting tree limbs and picking up garbage and other refuse. Farmers are harvesting crops, and the construction workers are safeguarding building materials. From Pinar del Rio, correspondent Ronal Suarez Ramos reported that the recently harvest tobacco crop was fully protected against possible weather related damage.
SATELLITE LINKS REINFORCED
About a year ago Hurricane Dennis impacted the Cuban territory in a very significant way, and now the telecommunication systems has been upgraded with the installation of new satellite links and cell phone systems to provide service to the nation's most remote locations.
At a meeting held Sunday at the National Headquarters of the Civil Defense it was learned that the satellite links were reinforced facing the upcoming transit of Ernesto.
Since the last hurricane season, communications stations were installed at 100 of the 169 municipalities of the country. In order to increase the possibilities of picking up Cuban radio and TV broadcasts, satellite receiving stations were installed so that information regarding natural disasters could be received by the population instantly.
The Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces has made available to the Defense Councils all the required search and rescue equipment including amphibious vehicles, portable bridges and a helicopter squadron, according to a report by Raisa Pages.
Ernesto hits Cuba as a storm, not hurricane
Sustained heavy rain reported in Guantanamo
MIAMI, Monday, August 28, 2006; 8:14 AM - Ernesto made landfall on Cuba's southeast coast as a tropical storm on Monday, not as the more powerful hurricane that had at one point been feared, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The Miami-based hurricane center said the winds of the fifth tropical cyclone of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season, which is on a track toward south Florida, had weakened to 45 mph (75 kph) as it moved onshore. Sustained heavy rainfall was reported at Guantanamo in Cuba but no fierce winds.
Cuba braced for first hurricane of season
Sunday August 27, 2006 12:31 PM
KINGSTON, Jamaica - The first hurricane of the Atlantic season steamed through the central Caribbean toward Haiti on Sunday, threatening to enter the Gulf of Mexico as an even stronger storm and is expected to hit Cuba on Tuesday.
Ernesto strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane Sunday, with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, the National Hurricane Season in Miami said.
It could grow into a Category 3 hurricane by Thursday, menacing a broad swath of the Gulf Coast including hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Category 3 Hurricane Katrina struck the city a year ago Tuesday.
``It's over nice warm Caribbean waters, and far enough off the coast of Haiti that is still strengthening now," said Ron Goodman, a forecaster a the center.
The storm, moving northwest at 10 mph, was projected to make landfall in Haiti on Sunday afternoon, dropping heavy rain that could cause deadly mudslides in the heavily deforested Caribbean country. Ernesto, the first hurricane of the 2006 Atlantic season, was expected to cross west-central Cuba on Tuesday night before continuing into the Gulf of Mexico.
``There will be probably be a restrengthening after it leaves the Cuban coast to a Category 2, and Wednesday night it will be west of Fort Myers as Category 3. That's the current thinking," Goodman said.
Haiti issued a hurricane warning for its southern coast, and hurricane watches were in effect for Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and eastern provinces of Cuba.