Cuba's tobacco crop devastated by 140mph winds

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The Independent US

As Hurricane Gustav barrelled towards the United States last night, Cubans emerged from their shelters to discover that the Category 4 storm had spared their lives but laid waste to vast tracts of the island's tobacco industry.

Winds of 140mph crashed into the western edge of the Caribbean island where much of the country's vital tobacco crop is grown, toppling telegraph poles and ripping off tin roofs.

Approximately 250,000 Cubans had been evacuated before Gustav crashed into Cuba's Isla de la Juventud before hitting the mainland further north at Pinar del Rio. Officials from the Cuban government said no one had been killed by the storm but many people had been injured.

State media also reported major flooding and widespread damage across the island which lost electricity and telephone lines as the storm hit early on Sunday evening. By the time Gustav hit Cuba's mainland, the storm was close to being classified as a Category 5, although it did weaken throughout its journey across western Cuba.

Most Cubans yesterday felt they had emerged relatively unscathed from a storm which has killed more than 80 people since it first hit Jamaica early last week.

Aldo Tomas, a 43-year-old Cuban from the fishing town of Batabano, which is 31 miles south of the capital Havana, told the Associated Press: "My house is full of water. But we expected more, we expected worse."

The eye of the storm crossed over the Pinar del Rio region, close to the community of Los Palacios, bringing down scores of electricity towers and flattening hundreds of houses. The region had been evacuated long before the storm made landfall.

In Havana, public transport started up again yesterday morning after a night of strong winds. Tourists were forced to shelter with local people. Lidia Morral, a tourist from Barcelona, said yesterday: "It's been following us all over Cuba, ruining our vacation. They have closed everything – hotels, restaurants, bars, museums. There's not much to do but wait."

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