Cuba says Gustav damaged more than 90,000 houses

HAVANA Tue Sep 2, 2008 7:05am EDT

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba said on Monday more than 90,000 houses were damaged or destroyed when Hurricane Gustav tore through the western province of Pinar del Rio on Saturday with 150-mile-per-hour (240-kph) winds.

Officials and state media said 80 percent of the province, which has about 750,000 residents, was without power after Gustav knocked down 80 high-tension towers with cables that distribute electricity throughout the region.

State-run news agency AIN, in a story quoting Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage, said 53 percent of the homes in the hardest-hit areas were affected, most suffering roof damage.

No deaths have been reported from the storm, which passed into the Gulf of Mexico after crossing Cuba and on Monday struck Louisiana, near New Orleans, on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Power lines were knocked down throughout the stricken area in Cuba, many of them draped across roads and highways.

The tall, metal towers supporting the main electricity cables could be seen lying crumpled across the palm-studded landscape.

On state television, Lage said during a trip to the worst-hit Pinar del Rio towns that power supply was a "very grave and urgent problem."

"It doesn't have to do with repairing a few towers, it has to do with constructing a new electricity network, because much of the network is on the ground," he said.

But Lage said electricity should be restored more quickly than in past storms because of diesel generators installed around the country in recent years.

He also said electricity workers from around Cuba had been brought in to speed repair of the system.

An official for the state electric company said on state television that power had been completely knocked out on the Isle of Youth and would take some time to restore.

AIN quoted the local electricity director on the island, which is about 40 miles off Cuba's southwestern coast and took a direct hit from Gustav, as saying 120 miles of power lines had been downed.

Television reports showed widespread devastation on the island, which has about 86,000 residents. A report on national radio said more than 40 percent of the housing had been damaged and the main hospital was closed.

The top official of the ruling Communist Party in Pinar del Rio, the main growing region for Cuba's famed tobacco, said more than 4 million pounds (1.8 million kg) of the leaf, already harvested and in warehouses, had been damaged by Gustav, but that efforts were being made to salvage them.

Cuba produces about 80 million pounds (36 million kg) of tobacco annually.

AIN also reported heavy damage to hotels and thousands of buildings in Pinar del Rio's Vinales valley, a popular international tourist destination known for its dramatic rocky outcrops and traditional architecture.

In Havana, which did not bear the full brunt of the storm but where many older buildings are in poor condition, officials said 50 houses had partially collapsed and six had fallen.

(Editing by Michael Christie and Peter Cooney)