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Friday, September 5, 2008

Cuba's tobacco region should be OK in spite of Gustav

AP photo by Javier Galeano
Hurricane Gustav tore through Cuba this weekend. While no deaths were reported, it left the town of Los Palacios (pictured) in ruins.

Hurricane Gustav swept across Cuba’s famed Pinar del Río tobacco growing region on August 30—with wind gusts as high as 200 miles per hour—collapsing thousands of tobacco curing barns, according to Cuban News Agency. It was the strongest storm to hit the island in 50 years.

Cuba reported no deaths due to Gustav, which was a category four storm at the time of landfall, with sustained winds of 140 miles per hour, but the storm ripped roofs off homes and was blamed for the collapse of nearly 3,500 tobacco curing barns, or casas de tobaccos, according to the report. Cuban officials evacuated thousands from the coast in western Cuba, which was in the storm’s path. Hundreds of schools were damaged and 86,000 homes were destroyed or partially destroyed.

Sources in Cuba said that the winds were most powerful in the Viñales region of Cuba, and that the best growing areas on the island, San Juan and San Luis, were spared from the worst of the hurricane. None of the damaged barns were in San Juan or San Luis.

Tobacco farmers throughout the Caribbean and Central America typically do not plant during the hurricane season, and it was too early in the year for tobacco plants or even seedlings to be in the ground. Cuban workers were already out working on fixing the barns to prepare for the upcoming harvest.

Gustav weakened considerably as it moved north toward the United States, where it made landfall in southern Louisiana. Damage there was far less than originally feared. This afternoon, it was a tropical depression over Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.

The storm has been blamed for more than 100 deaths since it formed on August 25.

Hurricanes have changed the history of the cigar industry. Hurricane Gilbert tore the roof off the Royal Jamaica factory in Jamaica in 1988, which resulted in the brand’s production being moved to the Dominican Republic, and repeated hurricane strikes in the early 1990s devastated the Key West cigar industry