October 30, 2007 / 4:24 PM / 10 years ago

Weakened Tropical Storm Noel drenches Cuba

4 Min Read

(Updates death toll, position and strength, adds quotes)

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Noel weakened as it moved across Cuba on Tuesday, dumping torrential rain on already water-logged areas of the Caribbean island after killing at least 18 people in flashfloods and mudslides in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Double the average rainfall in October has already filled reservoirs in eastern Cuba to the brim and authorities worried about flooding. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damages.

"There's lots of rain but no really strong winds like a hurricane," said Chantal Rivas, owner of a bed-and-breakfast inn in the port of Gibara, 470 miles (750 km) east of Havana.

The storm knocked down trees on the coast of neighboring Camaguey, a beach resort hotel receptionist said, as it swept along Cuba's north coast. Forecasters warned of storm surges.

Cuba evacuated about 10,000 people from inland areas threatened by floods and mudslides or rivers that could burst their banks. Tourists at coastal resorts were not affected.

Cuba's nickel mining, its major export industry located at Moa, was not affected by the storm, which crossed Cuba farther inland than expected, an industry source said. "It's sunny in Moa today," the source said.

In the nearby hills of Holguin province, more than 3,000 students working in the coffee harvest were sent home for fear of flooding. Thousands of cattle were herded to higher ground in Camaguey, Cuba's main cattle-raising province.

Troops at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, in southeastern Cuba, stacked sandbags around low-lying buildings but said they had no evacuations or disruptions at the prison camp that holds 330 suspected al Qaeda operatives.

"For the most part we came out very unscathed," said Army Lt. Col. Ed Bush, a spokesman for the detention operation. "We're still getting rain but no significant flooding."

By 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT), the center of the storm was 30 miles (45 km) south-southwest of Camaguey, and its maximum sustained winds had dropped to 40 miles per hour (65 km per hour), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Computer models showed Noel would stay overland overnight and then head northwest toward Florida. It was seen making a sharp turn to the northeast at some point and swirling out over the Bahamas into the Atlantic. Parts of the Bahamas were already getting an inch (2.5 cm) of rain an hour.

The 14th named storm of the 2007 Atlantic storm season was not expected to strengthen significantly. The longer it stayed over land the lower its chances of gaining minimal hurricane strength on its closest approach to southeast Florida.

On Monday, Noel dumped torrential rain on the Dominican Republic and the treeless hillsides of Haiti, which share the island of Hispaniola. Several people were swept away in rivers swollen by the deluge, while others were buried in mudslides or crushed as their homes collapsed.

Seven people died in Haiti, civil protection officials said. In the Dominican Republic, 11 people were confirmed dead and 13 were missing but there were unconfirmed reports the death toll had risen to 25.






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