By Esteban Israel
HAVANA, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Hurricane Ike damaged at least 200,000 homes, including 30,000 that were destroyed, as its high winds and torrential rains wreaked havoc on the full length of Cuba, the country’s top housing official said on Wednesday.
Victor Ramirez, president of the National Institute of Housing, told state news agency AIN the number could rise because the storm’s effects were still being felt in western Cuba a day after Ike moved into the Gulf of Mexico.
Ike struck eastern Cuba on Sunday with 120 miles per hour(195 kph) winds and dumped rains up to 15 inches (38 cm) in the eastern and central provinces before heading south into the Caribbean and making a second landfall on Tuesday in Pinar del Rio.
Ike’s massive damage came 10 days after Hurricane Gustav ripped the Isle of Youth and westernmost Pinar del Rio province with 150 mph (240 kph) winds.
Estimates on houses damaged by Gustav have varied, but AIN said the total number for the two storms was 320,000.
Most of the affected housing sustained roof damage, Ramirez said.
As officials have said Cuba already had a shortage of about 500,000 homes, the storms added to the country’s housing woes.
Ike, now apparently headed toward the Texas coast, did not strike a direct blow on Havana, but the Cuban capital got enough of the storm to cause at least 67 buildings to partially or totally collapse, officials said.
Wind gusts that reached hurricane strength of 74 mph (120 kph) and heavy rains caused buildings made precarious by years of exposure to salty sea air and faulty maintenance to collapse.
Heavy weather routinely takes a toll on Havana housing, 43 percent of which is considered to be in poor condition, according to government figures.
The city, which dates back to the 1500s, has many beautiful colonial, neoclassical and Art Deco buildings.
One of the collapses occurred on Wednesday when the roof of a four-story building in a historic part of the city’s famous seaside boulevard, the Malecon, caved into the three floors below it.
Firemen could be seen trying to rescue a man who neighbors said was trapped in the rubble.
"It has been falling down for a while," said Alina Montero, 42, who lived in the building, but along with her two daughters evacuated in a rush on Tuesday.
Montero said she did know whether the government would repair her home. "It remains to be seen what happens because now the country is in very bad shape," she said.
(Editing by Jeff Franks and Vicki Allen)