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WILMA'S DESTRUCTIVE PATH

Flooding Swamps Havana, Where Scores Are Rescued

October 25, 2005|From Chicago Tribune

HAVANA — Rescuers in inflatable rafts pulled scores of residents from their homes Monday as Hurricane Wilma sideswiped Cuba and sparked some of the worst flooding in years.

Giant waves crashed onto Havana's sweeping seaside boulevard, the Malecon, inundating hotels, apartment buildings, neo-colonial-style homes and the U.S. diplomatic mission with water as deep as 6 feet.

Only minor injuries were reported.

Throughout the morning, divers in wetsuits and other rescuers waded into the roiling waters to pull residents to safety.

"It is very tense," said Joslan Portales, a Cuban military rescue diver resting atop a truck at the water's edge. "The sea is strong."

Moments later, Yuveysy Gotierez hustled by through knee-deep water, pausing to explain that her home was inundated but she was trying to save her television and video player.

"The water is up to here," she said, holding her hand across her chest. "We lost everything."

Also at the water's edge was Tomas Alvarez, a 49-year-old waiter who said his two teenage sons lived in one of the flooded buildings. Alvarez was waiting for the water to recede to take them bread, cheese and other supplies. "They didn't have to be evacuated because they live on the fourth floor," he said.

Cuba's communist government has turned hurricane preparedness into a well-oiled drill, evacuating nearly 700,000 people before Wilma struck.

By Monday afternoon, power remained out in much of Havana. Coastal areas in western Cuba and low-lying communities around Havana were flooded.

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