Hurricane Gustav plowed into the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio Saturday, leaving devastation and despair, but no death, in its wake.
"It was really terrible, and I was 50 miles from the eye. I thought that the horror, the noise, would never end," said William Diaz, a resident of the city of Pinar del Rio.
Images and reports trickled in today from Cuba's westernmost province and from the Isle of Youth, just off its southern coast, where the Category 4 storm, boasting 150 mph winds and gusts much stronger, leveled everything in its path.
Dozens of high-tension towers were either mangled or completely knocked down and hundreds of trees and utility poles were uprooted and toppled. Modest homes were ripped from their foundations, schools left in shambles, health clinics trashed and concrete apartment buildings blown apart. Throughout the hardest-hit areas there was one roofless home after another.
Tornadoes reportedly mixed in the eye and area residents wandered and pondered and cried today, still stunned by the hurricane's force as local officials began recovery efforts.
The Cuban weather service said one of its stations measured a wind gust of 204 mph, the highest ever recorded.
Miraculously, no deaths had been reported in Cuba as of this afternoon, after Gustav killed at least 86 people in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica.
The island nation's well respected civil defense system was credited with avoiding loss of life, evacuating some 250,000 people, among them hundreds of foreign tourists, from out of the path of the storm's eye.
There was little information from the Isle of Youth, 40 miles off the southwestern coast, which took a direct hit from Gustav before it made landfall. Officials were still picking through the wreckage.
State television showed piles of rubble, concrete walls with gaping holes, flooded factories and large boats lifted from their moorings and left in the middle of the island's capital city Nueva Gerona.
The storm scattered trees and telephone poles like pick-up sticks and the 800,000 residents of Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth remained without power on Sunday, as did most of the more than 3 million residents of adjoining Havana province and the capital. People used wood to cook.
Gustav Storm Surge Floods Countless Villages
Up to 100 miles to the east in Matanzas, winds damaged citrus groves and gusts downed trees and damaged buildings, telephone and electricity lines, testimony to Gustav's breadth.
The city of Havana's streets, 50 miles to the east of Gustav's eye, were littered with foliage and debris, but authorities said damage was minimal.
Winds and rains damaged some crops in Havana province, the capital's bread basket, and flooding from bands of rain was reported in mountains some 150 miles to the east of Pinar del Rio.
The storm surge flooded countless coastal villages along 200 miles of the southern coast.
Damage to recently harvested tobacco in Pinar del Rio, being cured to make famous cigars, was still being quantified.
Officials hailed the protection of life and property even as they counted up the damage and promised a full report as soon as possible.
"The damage will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but not billions," a local economist said, asking his name not be used. "In our country every little bit hurts, so it is still a blow, though it could have been much worse."