September 3, 2008 / 7:11 AM / in 11 years

Castro says Gustav hit Cuba like nuclear bomb

HAVANA (Reuters) - Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said on Wednesday that Hurricane Gustav hit Cuba like a nuclear bomb and left authorities struggling to feed people on the hard-hit Isle of Youth.

An aerial view shows houses damaged by Hurricane Gustav in Nueva Gerona on the Isle of Youth, Cuba, September 2, 2008. REUTERS/Claudia Daut

In a column on the Internet, he said Gustav, which slammed into western Cuba with winds of 150 mile per hour (240 kilometers per hour) on Saturday, had damaged or destroyed 100,000 houses and dealt a blow to agriculture.

He said television shots from the Isle of Youth, which is 40 miles off Cuba’s southwestern coast “reminded me of the desolation I saw when I visited Hiroshima,” referring to the Japanese city destroyed by a U.S. nuclear bomb in 1945 at the end of World War Two.

“Now the battle is to feed the hurricane victims,” Castro wrote, saying that only two of 16 bakeries on the island were functioning.

The ailing 82-year-old, who has become a prolific column writer since giving up power to brother Raul Castro following undisclosed surgery two years ago, printed a letter from a friend from the Isle of Youth who said authorities estimated that 20,000 of the 25,000 houses on the island had been damaged.

On Tuesday, state-run news agency AIN said in a story quoting Cuba Vice President Carlos Lage that more than 90,000 homes had been damaged or destroyed in the mainland province of Pinar del Rio, which Gustav struck after raking over the Isle of Youth.

Pinar del Rio has about 750,000 residents and the Isle of Youth about 86,000.

No deaths from the storm have been reported.

Castro warned that recovering from Gustav would require sacrifice on the part of Cubans and that the cost would be high.

“A hundred million dollars means only nine dollars per resident, and we need much more. We need 30 times, 40 times that number only to cover our most elemental necessities,” he said.

“Such effort must come from the work of the people. Nobody can do it for us.”

Russia, which has been renewing ties with Cuba, its former Cold War ally, said it would send four planes loads of food and other items to the island starting on Wednesday, according to Russian news reports.

After crossing Cuba, Gustav moved into the Gulf of Mexico where its winds weakened to 110 mph (177 kph) and struck the central Louisiana coast on Monday.

Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Philip Barbara

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