590,000 People evacuated as Hurricane Michelle heads for Cuba

Published: 4 November 2001

The strongest hurricane in 75 years threatens to cut a swathe of destruction across the island of Cuba in the coming hours. The Cuban Red Cross is supporting an unprecedented evacuation effort which so far has seen 590,000 people moved to safety.

The Cuban Red Cross has put its network of 24,500 volunteers on full alert across the island in support of Civil Defence teams in the evacuations which have included over 80% of the population in the Province of Pinar del Rio. Cuban Red Cross is also managing shelters providing food and other relief as needed.

Cuban Red Cross relief co-ordinator, Dr. Virginia Huergo, speaking in Havana, compared the impending disaster with Hurricane Mitch which devastated Central America three years ago. "We are afraid that it will be our Mitch and are prepared for the worst," she said.

Michelle is an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, packing winds of 217 kilometres per hour. It has already claimed at least ten lives in Central America and left thousands of families homeless in Honduras and Nicaragua. It is feared that storm surges as high as six metres together with torrential rain will cause major flooding as Michelle crosses Cuba after making landfall in the south-west.

"Our experience of hurricanes in Cuba over the last six years tells us that even when they are significantly lower in strength, many thousands of homes can be destroyed. Shelter, water, sanitation, health and food needs will need to be assessed quickly, " said Iain Logan, head of the Pan-American Disaster Response Unit of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The Unit is on stand-by to assist. The International Federation has launched three appeals for hurricanes affecting Cuba since 1996 covering immediate relief needs and longer-term rehabilitation needs.For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

Denis McClean, Head, Media Service Tel.: +41 22 730 4428/ + 41 79 217 3357

Eva Calvo, information officer Tel: +41-22-730 4357/ + 41-79-217 3372