Scientists predict up to 14 Atlantic basin hurricanes

AP: Federal government scientists are predicting there will be 14 to 23 tropical storms in the Atlantic basin during the coming season, including eight to 14 hurricanes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted today that three to seven of the hurricanes will be major storms that reach Category 3 or higher — meaning they bring sustained winds of at least 111 mph.

The forecast is based on the weakening of El Nino. The Pacific Ocean phenomenon creates strong wind shear that weakens Atlantic storms.

The Atlantic hurricane season begins Tuesday and runs through Nov. 30. – Vacation rental in Cuba

NOAA retires names of deadly hurricanes

MIAMI, USA (CMC) – The names Gustav, Ike and Paloma will never be associated with future hurricanes or tropical storms on account of their deadly romp through the Caribbean last year, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced.

The storms claimed more than 200 lives and left a trail of destruction calculated in the billions across the region from August to November 2008.

Under the normal six-year rotation, the names would have been up to be used again in 2014. However, they will be replaced by Gonzalo, Isaias and Paulette.
An NOAA spokesman said the names were retired for reasons of sensitivity.

“That’s why you’ll never hear the name Katrina again or Andrew, for that matter. It would be very inappropriate,” Dennis Feltgen said on Friday.

Hurricane Gustav slammed into Haiti as a Category One hurricane in August, killing 77 people before tearing into Cuba as a powerful Category Four system.

More than 80 people were killed as a result of Hurricane Ike in the Caribbean. The Turks and Caicos Islands, the Southeastern Bahamas and Cuba were among the worst impacted.

The Cuban government said Paloma, which became the second strongest November hurricane on record, reaching Category 4, destroyed more than 1,400 homes and caused about US$300 million in damage on the island. – special offers in Cuban hotels

Hurricanes sweep food shortages back into Cubans’ lives

HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) — Many Cubans thought they’d left behind forever the grim, hungry days that were the norm just after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and, with it, the loss of billions of dollars in subsidies for the Communist state.

But what government officials used to call euphemistically “the special period” has returned, thanks to recent back-to-back visits of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which devastated farm production. Now, years after the economic crisis of the 1990s, Cubans are again facing the specter of hunger.

“There isn’t a single province or municipality in Cuba that wasn’t affected,” said Vice Minister of Agriculture Alcides Lopez.

Cubans still receive a monthly food ration, but there’s now less to go around.

Authorities say this crisis could last six months.

In response, the government has set price limits and harsh penalties for anyone who breaks them.

The government imposed the price limits just weeks after it raised the price of gasoline by 70 percent, to $5.50 per gallon, which made it more expensive for farmers to get their crops to market.

A cartoon in the state newspaper painted vendors who profit from the food shortage as enemies of the people. But economist and government critic Oscar Espinosa Chepe told CNN that the government shares some of the blame.

“It’s a desert,” he said, referring to the empty shelves of one market. “There’s nothing for sale. The government has adopted fixed prices for farmers at a time when the price of gasoline has gone up.”

That means that many of Cuba‘s most productive farmers — those who work in part for profit — can no longer afford to sell their goods, he said.

“Just look at how things are after the hurricane,” said one woman who said she’d already been to three other markets looking for food.

“With the hurricanes,” she said, “there’s nothing — almost everything’s disappeared.”

And she was talking about one of the best-stocked markets in Havana. In many other markets, shelves are bare.

Cuba Advances in Power Service Recovery

HAVANA – Cuba advanced today in recovery work of electric service in the zones hit by hurricanes Gustav and Ike, by adding 250 thousand persons to the recovered areas in the last week.

The Electric Union (EU) explained this was accomplished by using emergency electric generator groups working as microsystems, with an additional cost in fuel input of 46 million dollars.

Such units were not conceived to work continuously for a long time but do so now to alleviate the damage suffered by the power net and quicken the recovery of the service to the population, says daily Granma today.

A total of 100 of those generating units currently operate in the provinces of Pinar del Rio, Las Tunas, Camagüey and Holguín, including the special municipality of the Isle of Youth, affirmed EU engineer Ricardo Gonzalez.

Even though there is an intensive work of the enterprise´s brigades and from other organizations, there are still 80 thousand houses and work centres affected by the lack of power due to the severe damages left by the hurricanes.

This includes far-away areas to which the revolution brought electrical power after 1959, as 98 percent of the Cuban territory is electrified.

Cuba faces food shortages after hurricanes

Source: Reuters
By Jeff Franks
HAVANA, Oct 1 (Reuters)
Cuban markets offered a dwindling selection of food and a growing expanse of empty shelves on Wednesday as food shortages the government warned about after hurricanes Gustav and Ike became increasingly evident.The shortages were exacerbated in the Cuban capital when shipments from food suppliers slowed in a conflict with the government over newly imposed price controls.In markets around Havana, customers found stretches of mostly vacant vendor stalls and limited supplies of food. A market in the Vedado district offered only papayas, a small stack of melons and a few bulbs of garlic.Vendors shrugged their shoulders and said nothing else had arrived for them to sell.A shopper named Yissel, who did not provide her full name, said the situation was the same in other markets and in her neighborhood grocery store.”These are difficult times because everything is so affected, so damaged (by the hurricanes),” she said. “In Minimax (grocery store), it was like I’d never seen it. I saw almost nothing, not like other times.”Due to problems in its state-run agriculture, Cuba has long struggled to meet its food needs and imports much of what it consumes.Hurricanes Gustav and Ike made the problem worse when they ripped through most of the country in a 10-day span starting Aug. 30, causing $5 billion in damage and destroying 30 percent of Cuba’s agriculture.A top agriculture official warned two weeks ago of impending food shortages that he said could last six months. But he said the government had implemented emergency measures to make sure no Cuban went hungry.On Wednesday, Cuba’s state-run press reported that those measures included placing limits on the amount of food to be purchased and putting caps on prices.One newspaper reported that many food suppliers had not made their usual shipments because the government’s price controls would cause them to lose money.The government in recent days has issued strong warnings against price gouging and through Cuban media has hinted that markets where trade has not been state-controlled may be shut down.Cubans said food difficulties were to be expected after the devastation of Gustav and Ike, but they should last only a few months as agricultural production is renewed.Government worker Hernan, who did not give his last name, said he did not expect anything like the harsh deprivation Cubans suffered in what is known as the “special period,” the years after the Soviet Union, Cuba’s biggest benefactor, collapsed in 1991.”This is a country that knows how to learn from bad experiences,” he said. “I hope the authorities have learned from the special period and won’t let it happen again.”The situation would be less dire, said Elsie Perez Martinez, a doctor, if the nearby United States had given Cuba a hand by providing aid or lifting its 46-year-old trade embargo against communist-run Cuba.”If it were not for the blockade (embargo), it would not have come to this,” she said. “They won’t let us buy in the United States.”The United States has offered more than $5 million in aid, which Cuba rejected. Cuba requested that the U.S. temporarily lift the embargo so it can purchase goods for recovery, but the Bush administration refused. The United States has permitted food sales to Cuba since 2001 but only for cash and not on credit. (Editing by Jane Sutton and Cynthia Osterman).

Cuba Increases over 270 metric tons Lobster Capture

Over 270 metric tons of lobster were captured in September by crews belonging to the Gerardo Medina Cardentey Fishing Compound in westernmost Pinar del Rio province, according to an official report issued by this company.

Luis Leonel Lima, deputy director of this compound located in La Coloma town, reported that the planning up to September was to capture 58.8 tons of lobsters, but even after the devastation caused by hurricanes Ike and Gustav to the infrastructure, especially in the roofing of the storage facilities, they were able to increase the level of capture four times. This compound completed the year’s plan with 1,045 tons.

Lobster’s capture must stop now due to the beginning of the close season in October and November. Japan and the European Union are the main destination for this product, processed under demanding quality, hygiene and efficiency norms, in order to assure its commercialization, greatly needed at this difficult time for Cuban economy.


Despite storms, Cuba expects tourism to grow

HAVANA (AP) – Cuba expects tourism to increase 13 percent this year despite destruction from hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which damaged colonial and coastal towns, and hit picturesque hideaways in the tobacco-growing west even harder.
Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said Saturday that officials believe foreign visitors will top 2.3 million in 2008, up nearly 200,000 from last year.
The sector is «bursting with vitality despite the passage of these hurricanes,» he said during an event at the University of Havana. Cuba had previously announced that tourism rose 15 percent in the first quarter.
Marrero said that dipped only slightly after Gustav smacked western Cuba in late August. Ike hit eight days later, slamming into the island’s eastern tip and moving west over much of Cuba.
Marrero said hotels and other tourism infrastructure were damaged in the provinces of Camaguey and Holguin and in tobacco-growing Pinar del Rio, home to the limestone mountain-flanked town of Vinales. But the beaches most popular with international visitors were largely spared.

Foreign visitors to Cuba peaked at about 2.3 million in 2005 but slipped to 2.1 million last year _ dealing a financial blow to a nation that relies on tourism for much of its hard-currency revenue. Tourism brought in some US$2.2 billion last year.
Canada, Britain, Spain and Italy rank as top sources of visitors. Washington’s trade embargo prohibits American tourists from coming to Cuba.

Help for Cuba and Haiti

The devastating string of tropical storms and hurricanes that rushed through the Caribbean in the last month — Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike — left hundreds dead and tens of thousands of people hurt and displaced in Haiti. The country’s crops appear to be destroyed. In Cuba, Gustav and Ike destroyed or damaged hundreds of thousands of homes. A fifth of the population was evacuated to higher ground.

The scale of devastation calls for an extraordinary assistance effort that is, so far, not happening. While the United States has offered some emergency aid to Haiti, it has not done enough for an impoverished nation that Americans have a moral responsibility to help. And the Bush administration’s peculiar fixation with an obsolete trade embargo and deep-pocketed anti-Castro hard-liners in Miami is standing in the way of dispatching desperately needed assistance for Cuba.

In the last week, Washington has announced $10 million in aid for Haiti. It sent the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge, which carries helicopters and airplanes, to assist in the relief effort. It is a good start. But Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, will need more. Only half the American aid is new money — the rest is being diverted from less urgently needed programs. And the United Nations has asked for more than $100 million to help those stricken by the storm.

Aid to Cuba is being complicated by outdated cold-war politics. The United States has, so far, offered only $100,000 in aid, with a promise of more if Cuba allows an American team in to assess the damage. Havana has foolishly rejected it. And the United States is refusing to temporarily ease core aspects of the longstanding trade embargo to help Cuba deal with the emergency.

The Treasury Department increased the dollar limit that organizations authorized to work with Cuban dissidents may send to Cuba. But Washington is refusing Cuba’s request to buy American construction materials to rebuild homes and repair the mangled electricity grid. It won’t allow Cuba to buy American food on credit, and it has, so far, refused to lift restrictions on the money that Cuban-Americans may send back to their relatives.

We believe the embargo against Cuba is about as wrongheaded a policy as one can devise. It gives credibility to the regime in Havana while contributing to the misery of ordinary Cubans, all for the sake of some votes in Florida. But we are not even asking the Bush administration to lift the embargo forever. The right thing to do to alleviate the crisis wrought by the storms is to temporarily lift all the restrictions on private remittances and private aid flows to Cuba.

Source: New York Times Editorial