World

Tropical storm Paula hits Havana

Tropical storm Paula brought winds and heavy rain to Havana on Thursday, turning some low-lying streets into shallow rivers, bending palm trees and sending waves crashing against the Cuban capital's famed Malecon sea wall.
A man pushes a motorcycle carrying a passenger through a flooded street during the passing of tropical storm Paula in Havana on Thursday. ((Javier Galeano/Associated Press))
Tropical storm Paula brought winds and heavy rain to Havana on Thursday, turning some low-lying streets into shallow rivers, bending palm trees and sending waves crashing against the Cuban capital's famed Malecon sea wall.

There were no reports of serious damage, and with the storm losing steam by the hour, Cuban officials said they were optimistic it would not bring a repeat of the devastation wrought by three monster storms that hit in 2008.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Paula had maximum sustained winds of 90 kilometres per hour and its core was about 40 kilometres east of Havana at 8 p.m. ET. The storm is on a course that will take it near the coastal resort area of Varadero, the centre said.

The storm was moving east at about 22 km/h, and forecasters projected it to continue moving along Cuba's northern coast. Tropical storm force winds extended about 110 kilometres from the centre, mostly north and east.

A heavy rain poured down on the capital as dusk fell, and the sea, which had been as flat as a plate, quickly turned violent and frothy. Power was knocked out, or switched off, in most of the city, a normal precaution when winds are high. Waves crashed against the Malecon, and in some flooded streets water levels rose to half a metre or more.

The capital took its punishment after the storm passed over western Pinar del Rio, turning rutted country roads into red-brown, muddy quagmires and lashing humble homes, rural schools and thatched tobacco-drying huts with wind.

A Category 2 hurricane the previous day, Paula lost strength as it crawled along the island's northwestern coast and was downgraded to a tropical storm in the morning.

The island's chief meteorologist, Jose Rubiera, said the storm would likely continue losing strength and become a tropical depression.

"The future of Paula is to keep moving eastward and weaken in the coming hours," he said.

In Pinar del Rio, most residents took the storm in stride.

"The rains have not been as intense as we had expected," Aliuska Banos, 28, told The Associated Press by telephone Thursday from the town of Sandino, along the extreme west of the island.

"There were gusts of wind this morning, but they were not even strong enough to knock down my television antenna, which is pretty weak."

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