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Hurricane Dennis Bears Down on U.S. Gulf Coast


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

Hurricane Dennis is now over the Gulf of Mexico headed in a northwest direction toward the northern Gulf Coast. It's expected to hit tomorrow somewhere between eastern Louisiana and Florida's Panhandle. The storm is being blamed for at least 20 deaths--10 in Haiti and 10 in Cuba. There was some damage reported at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, but no casualties. Dennis had been a dangerous Category 4 hurricane when it hit the islands. It's less severe now but could regain strength over open water. NPR's Tom Gjelten is in Havana and joins me now.

Tom, what can you tell us about the deaths there in Cuba?

TOM GJELTEN reporting:

From what I can understand, they were in central Cuba or eastern Cuba where the hurricane hit yesterday about midday, and as you said, it was much more powerful when it hit Cuba. Winds were reported up to a 175 miles an hour when it hit Cuba and the deaths were in those harder-hit areas. Now hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from those areas, but there are always some people who refuse to move, some people who get trapped. There were two elderly sisters, for example, who didn't want to move. They were asleep in their bed or they were in their bed when the house collapsed and a wall fell on top of them. They were both killed. So that's what happened in at least a couple of the cases. Here in Havana, there have been no deaths that I know of reported and I've been monitoring the radio all day. There were more than 200,000 people evacuated from their houses here in Havana.

LUDDEN: Have you been able to walk around at all and look at what kind of damage has been done?

GJELTEN: Yeah, I got out for a walk today here in downtown Havana. Of course, there's no electricity, there's no gas, not a lot of people on the streets. But actually I didn't think the damage looked that bad. I saw a number of trees that were down. Electrical wires were down. That's the kind of typical thing, but no great damage that I saw at least in this immediate area. One thing--one perhaps explanation is that the Cubans are really accustomed to hurricanes, know how to take precautions. A lot of boards have been put up over windows and so forth, and they really seem to be handling this with a routine.

LUDDEN: Well, I'm curious how the hurricane is being reported there.

GJELTEN: There hasn't been very much news. Now I don't know whether that's been because of difficulty with communication and transportation and all that kind of stuff. The emphasis here in Cuba is always on civil defense, on trusting your government to take care of you, and much of the reporting has that kind of slant. You know, what a good job the government did taking care of people.

LUDDEN: NPR's Tom Gjelten in Havana, thanks so much.

GJELTEN: Thank you, Jennifer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.