Hurricane Watch Update #3 on Paula Print

Hola Tod@s-

Hurriance Map

Yes, I know I said last night that I was sending "el ultimo aviso" (the last notice) about Hurricane Paula, but there was an important part -- perhaps the most important part -- of my "Hurricane Watch" report that I forgot to include last night, and that's the role of Civil Defense and the preparedness of the people.

First, to let you know what Hurricane Paula was doing as of 6 this morning: it's still a category 1 hurricane, although with sustained winds dropping even more to only 120 kph. (Note: at sustained winds of 119 kph, a Tropical Storm is officially classified as a Hurricane.) Its Central Pressure has increased a bit more, to 999, and it's moving very, very slowly between northeast and east northeast. Paula's eye is some 10 km from the northwestern coast of Pinar del Rio, and the sustained winds that are hitting land are 77 kph, although in some areas they're higher. But this means that on-land sustained winds are in the category of a Tropical Storm (between 63-118 kph).



Some isolated coastal inundations are occurring or are threatening to occur in low-lying coastal communities. Because of this, local evacuations have taken place in communities such as La Bajada (22 families), located in Pinar's western mun icipality of Sandino and in the community of Mantua (38 people). As you know, Cuba's Civil Defense system is oriented towards two priorities: first, protecting human lives, and second, protecting the economy.

Even this so-called "ciclon pigmeo" (pygmy hurricane) shows how effectively Civil Defense works here. In addition to evacuations of the most vulnerable communities, seven medical brigades have been activated in Pinar del Rio to reinforce health services in the extreme west of the province, should this be necessary. Some 319,00 quintales (1 quintal is 3.57 latas, and one lata is 28 lbs) of tobacco obtained from the previous harvest have been stored in selected safe locations. Some 150,000 planting beds destined to guarantee the seedlings for the current tobacco campaign have been drained and covered. Yesterday, 58 fishing vessels which were located on the high seas returned to port, and the harvest -- already going on -- was sped up of agricultural products with a high risk of loss (from rains and winds).

A pygmy hurricane, but Cuba still takes preparedness seriously, as any loss - no matter the size -- is still a loss. Preparedness: the province already has some 3,000 electric posts in stock, should there be damages to the electric system, so that recuperation can be done quickly. Protection of vulnerable roofs of private homes are in the hands of the inhabitants, who often put sacks of sand or other heavy weights on top of their roofs. (You might be interested to know that of the more than 100,000 homes affected in 2008 by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, some 60,000 have already been repaired.)

So far, and with only some local exceptions, Paula's rains have been of little significance. This is too bad, as the province is low on stored water. For instance, the province's 21 dams are only full to 59% of their capacity.

Meanwhile, the rest of the population, and especially Occidente, is kept constantly informed and up-to-date about Paula's passage through Cuban territory. In addition to frequent coverage on the TV, radio and in the press, Civil Defense periodically issues "Notas Informativas" (Informative Notes). The most recent one, #3, was issued yesterday (Wednesday) at 2pm, indicating that the northern coastal municipalities of Pinar del Rio were now in Fase de Alarma, while the City of Havana and the northern coastal municipalities of both provinces of Havana as well as Matanzas are in the Fase de Alerta, as is Isla de la Juventud. For the rest of Havana's municipalities as well as for the provinces of Matanzas and Villa Clara, the Fase Informative is still being maintained.

In particular, Civil Defense is being vigilant about such things as: the hydrometeorological situation in mountain regions, in low zones that are near rivers and streams, coastal communities, dams, etc. And there is a constant evaluation of the measures that might be necessary. Essential to this vigilance has been the round-the-clock work of the meteorological station in La Bajada, which is the country's most western station. As well, at the present time, a hurricane watch plane is overflying the area.

So yes, a pygmy hurricane, but just like the monster hurricanes, it shows Cuba's culture of hurricane preparedness, which is what, after all, helps to keep and people and its economy alive.

Abrazotes para tod@s de Susana