Michelle batters Cuba

Associated Press

HAVANA – Chunks of concrete and brick littered the streets of Old Havana on Monday after Hurricane Michelle whipped through Cuba overnight, uprooting trees and knocking out power. The storm later weakened somewhat, brushing Florida with its outer winds and then hitting the Bahamas.

Conditions in the rest of Cuba were unclear because communications were nearly completely knocked out. There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries.

A day after hitting Cuba with 130 mph winds, Michelle swept past the Bahamas capital of Nassau on Monday with 85 mph winds, flooding houses and cutting power.

The storm, which killed 12 people in Honduras, Nicaragua and Jamaica last week, left Florida virtually untouched. A tropical storm warning was lifted for the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas early Monday, but remained in effect for parts of Florida’s Atlantic coast.Cuba evacuated 750,000 people and shut down power for much of the island ahead of the storm. By Monday, the streets of Havana’s colonial district were littered with debris – but there were no immediate reports of any building collapses in the older sections of the city, where buildings have been known to tumble after a good rainfall.

More than half of the country – from Pinar del Rio province in the west to Ciego de Avila – remained without power, Radio Rebelde reported.

Javier Godinez, a bartender at the historic Dos Hermanos tavern on Old Havana’s waterfront, said he and several other people braved the storm inside the building to help protect it, listening as the wind banged against the metal shutters covering the windows. Godinez said he had been more concerned about the mother of his young son, who stayed at home.

“She was very worried, but in the end everything turned out all right,” Godinez said.

Havana housewife Nimar Herrera Perez, 63, was sweeping water off a sidewalk in front of her home, which had walls three feet thick.

“These walls are good and strong,” Herrera said. “You don’t feel anything inside.”

An elderly neighbor stopped by, complaining that Cubans’ daily bread ration had not arrived. “They gave out two rolls yesterday, because of the storm,” Herrera said.

Electrical company workers began driving around Havana at sunrise, checking damage and repairing fallen lines. Company officials told the radio station they hoped electricity would be restored to the capital later Monday.

By Monday morning the rain had stopped in most of Cuba, but there were reports of heavy downpours in Cuba’s easternmost provinces of Santiago and Guantanamo as Michelle moved to the northeast.

Michelle’s sustained winds were expected to keep declining. By 10 a.m. EST the storm was centered about 20 miles southeast of Nassau, after approaching from the southwest.

The hurricane unleashed stinging winds and sheets of rain on the Bahamas early Monday.

“We have a car outside that is underwater,” said Nassau resident Jackie Albury, standing in knee-deep water in her house, her pants rolled up and a few boxes floating by. “We have taken everything up on the second story.”

A group of people were being evacuated from low-lying Cat Island, to the east of Nassau, the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association said.

“I didn’t know it would be this bad,” said Mavis Turnquest, who drove to a hurricane shelter with blankets, food, and her Bible in her car. “I can only trust in God.”

On Sunday, Cuban leader Fidel Castro had visited tourists at hotels in Varadero, Cuba’s most important resort.

Speaking to reporters in Havana, Castro noted that Michelle entered Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, on the southern Zapata Peninsula, comparing the hurricane to the invasion by a CIA-funded army of exiles that landed there in a botched attempt to overthrow him 40 years ago.

“Our people are well organized, they have experience. The greatest success will be to keep the number of victims low,” he said.

Evacuations are mandatory in Cuba’s civil defense system, which was designed during the Cold War to repel military attacks.Michelle created an 18-foot storm surge on the outlying island of Cayo Largo on Cuba’s south coast Sunday, but there was no immediate word on what damage it caused.

The storm battered central-western Cuba during the day with sustained winds of 125 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Ten to 20 inches of rain fell in four days before ending late Sunday.

In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush had declared a state of emergency Saturday. A mandatory evacuation order was issued for the Florida Keys on Sunday, but it was expected to be lifted Monday.