Hurricane Matthew devastates historic Cuban town

AFP , Wednesday 5 Oct 2016

The high winds of Hurricane Matthew roar over Baracoa, Cuba, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. (AP)
The high winds of Hurricane Matthew roar over Baracoa, Cuba, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. (AP)

Hurricane Matthew devastated the historic colonial town of Baracoa in eastern Cuba and hurled large rocks onto the roads, cutting off a total of four towns, authorities and residents said Wednesday.

Cuban authorities said no victims had been reported from the storm -- the Caribbean's fiercest hurricane in nearly a decade -- which swept the province of Guantanamo with winds of up to 220 kilometers (135 miles) per hour Tuesday.

But residents said it left a trail of destruction in Baracoa, the first Spanish settlement in Cuba.

"There's nothing left of Baracoa. Just debris and remains. The big colonial houses in the city center, which were so pretty, are destroyed," said resident Quirenia Perez, 35, speaking to AFP by cell phone after losing her roof, electricity and land line in the storm.

"About 70 percent of the city's roofs flew off. There are a lot of trees, electric polls and telephone lines down," said Joel Gomez of humanitarian organization Oxfam in the nearby city of Guantanamo, relaying reports from the Red Cross.

He said the hurricane sent flood waters surging into Baracoa, partially or completely destroying many homes in the town of 82,000 people.

Baracoa and the towns of Imias, Maisi and San Antonio del Sur, all near the island's eastern tip, have been cut off from the rest of the country by rocks picked up in the storm and scattered across the roads, said Deputy Defense Minister Ramon Espinosa Matin.

"There was a lot of destruction in Baracoa. We don't have any reports of lives lost, but the material losses are substantial," he told journalists.

He said the situation was also "extremely complicated" in the other three towns, where the authorities are still trying to assess the extent of the damage.

The four towns have a total population of around 158,000 people.

The region was already hit hard in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy, which killed 11 people here.

Matthew, which has killed a total of at least nine people so far, pummeled Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba on Tuesday.

The storm, which made landfall as a Category Four hurricane, has been downgraded to three on a scale of five.

But it was still causing alarm Wednesday as it barreled toward the Bahamas and the US East Coast, prompting President Barack Obama to warn residents to "prepare for the worst."

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