Trees and telephone poles littered the streets and houses were missing doors and roofs, as residents of Los Palacios, western Cuba, despaired today at Hurricane Gustav's path of
destruction. The raging Category 4 cyclone tore over the island nation the previous evening after claiming at least 81 lives in its sweep across the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica. Los Palacios, in the western tobacco-growing Pinar del Rio province, was one of Cuba's first municipalities to be thrashed by Gustav late yesterday. "It's the end of the world. We're going to take 20 years to recover." Some 7000 homes, most made of wood with tile roofs, in Los Palacios - a town of 17,000 - were no match for the raging storm. During the night, roof tiles launched by Gustav's gusts flew around the streets like rockets as wind and rain hammered and damaged churches, schools and poultry plants. There were reports of dozens of injuries but no immediate reports of deaths from the storm, which ploughed across the Isle of Youth and then Pinar del Rio yesterday with sustained top winds of 240km/h. "There's serious damage to all the municipality's infrastructure, the telephone network is down, they've lost rice and yucca (plantain) crops and a lot of state businesses are affected." Meanwhile, the entire western part of Cuba - including the 2.2 million people in the capital Havana - was without power, and authorities said it would be some time before electricity could be restored. Concerns had risen dramatically over the crowded and charming colonial era Old Havana, whose fragile, centuries-old buildings are prone to cave-ins after heavy rains. More than 300,000 people had been evacuated from the storm's path, particularly from coastal towns, as Cuba's communist authorities ordered most of the island's 11 million people to brace for the worst. "The 1944 cyclone was big, but this was bigger." Material damage was overwhelming across the area. The districts of Candelaria, Bahia Honda, San Cristobal and La Palma were also badly affected. In Paso Real de San Diego, WINDS REACHED A RECORD 340km/h (211 miles per hour). "The town is practically destroyed."