Raul Castro says Cuban storm losses near $10 bln

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By Jeff Franks

HAVANA, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Cuba has suffered almost $10 billion in damages from the three hurricanes that struck the island this year, President Raul Castro said in a report aired on Tuesday on state-run television.

He made his comments during a visit on Monday to Camaguey province, where officials said 8,000 homes were damaged when Hurricane Paloma struck over the weekend, the report said.

"We're almost getting to $10 billion in losses in the last three months, that's how the economy is," Castro said.

Paloma followed hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which struck 10 days apart in late August and early September and caused destruction across much of the island. Officials said almost 450,000 homes were damaged by the storms.

Initial damage estimates from the first two storms totaled $5 billion but officials have been raising the number in recent days.

Former leader Fidel Castro, who led Cuba for 49 years before his brother Raul replaced him as president in February, wrote in a column on Friday there were $8 billion in damages from Gustav and Ike.

Raul Castro, dressed in military clothes, went to Camaguey a day after Paloma spun itself out over Cuba after coming ashore on Saturday with 120 mile per hour (195 km per hour) winds.

The lengthy television report showed Raul Castro talking with storm victims and promising to rebuild their homes, most of which were built of wood near the sea.

"Everything you lost we're going to replace, maybe not tomorrow but quickly," he said.

One of the towns he visited, Santa Cruz del Sur, was the hardest hit by Paloma, which struck almost 76 years to the day after a Nov. 9, 1932 hurricane killed 3,000 people in the same town.

The government has reported no Paloma-related deaths, but a dissident group said Tuesday one person died in the storm.

Castro said 1.2 million people were moved to safety for Paloma and it was "hard to imagine" how bad things would have been had they not been.

After the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power, the government began conducting widespread, compulsory evacuations, which it touts as one of the advantages of Cuba's socialist system.

"You have the revolution you deserve because as Fidel said in a recent (column) 'what would have happened if there hadn't been a revolution?'" Castro said to applause.

"And in countries so rich as the United States, look what happened," he said referring to the dozens of deaths in Texas, which was struck by Ike after the storm crossed Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico and where evacuations are voluntary. (Editing by Todd Eastham)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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