Photo: Tropical Storm Isaac (BBC)
Cuba got its first battering Saturday from Tropical Storm Isaac and expects to see a cross-country buildup of the wind and rain whirled in by the storm, whose center crossed the extreme eastern part of the country.
Isaac made landfall near Imias, a town in the easternmost province of Guantanamo, around noon with maximum sustained winds of 95 kilometers (60 miles) per hour, and was moving north-northwest headed for Florida.
Cuban meteorologists said the eye of the storm was almost imperceptible when it hit the country, and forecast its leaving during the early afternoon Saturday at some point on the northern coast between the provinces of Las Tunas and Guantanamo as it enters the Florida Straits.
With that movement the storm is likely to cover Cuba with its clouds and heavy rains that up to noon Saturday continued lashing the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where Isaac caused at least four deaths.
Cuban meteorologist Jose Rubiera said on state television that the heaviest rains will affect eastern Cuba starting Saturday afternoon and will gradually march across the rest of the country as the storm advances toward the Florida Keys.
According to Rubiera, Isaac hit Cuba as a “disorganized” and “very weak” storm, though the warm waters of the Florida Straits could whip it into a Category 1 hurricane.
The first reports of people being evacuated this Saturday came from Baracoa, a town in Guantanamo, where some 1,000 locals had to leave their houses due to the advancing sea waters and seek shelter in the homes of friends and family.
Official media also said that a number of tourist attractions and seaside resorts in the provinces of Holguin, Camaguey and Ciego de Avila were evacuated, in most cases putting an early end to tourists’ summer vacations.
Despite being located some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) west of the eastern tip of the country, winds have strengthened in Havana over the last few hours and some rain has fallen.
In his report, Rubiera said that this weekend “winds will be pretty strong across almost all of the country,” with speeds of 30 to 45 kph (20 to 30 mph) in the western and central areas, from 30 to 55 kph (20 to 35 mph) a little farther east in Camaguey province, and from 70 to 95 kph (40 to 60 mph) on the easternmost tip of the country.
Authorities are keeping a close watch on technical conditions and water volumes in national reservoirs, which on average are currently at 66 percent of capacity.
In provinces like Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara and Camaguey, however, reservoirs are above 80 percent of capacity and some are completely full, so that a sudden increase in volume is cause for concern.
On the other hand, eastern provinces like Granma have a serious problem with reservoir levels down to around 35 percent of capacity, which prompted the Hydraulic Resources Institute to speculate that Isaac’s rains will be “beneficial” for some of the reservoirs in the region.