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Cuba And Parts Of The Caribbean Left With Much Flooding And Structural Damage


And now we're going to turn to Cuba for a moment, where Hurricane Irma left its mark earlier today. It caused much flooding and structural damage. And it's not the only island to feel the impact. Some Caribbean islands have been devastated by Hurricane Irma. And more than 20 people have been killed. Michael Weissenstein is Caribbean bureau chief for The Associated Press, and he's with us on the line now from Havana. Michael, thanks so much for making time for us.


MARTIN: Can you give us a sense of how extensive the damage is in Cuba?

WEISSENSTEIN: The hurricane really trashed the northern Keys, where there are a lot of five-star all-inclusive resorts that have been seeing a lot more tourists in recent years. In Havana, the sea was driven up over the first blocks of the Malecon, the seaside promenade that's so well known. The U.S. embassy was pretty badly flooded and its fence was pushed over. And a lot of trees are down and power's still out throughout Havana.

MARTIN: Despite all that, there are reports that Cuba sent more than 700 doctors to assist other islands. Do you know anything about that?

WEISSENSTEIN: Yeah. This is a big part of Cuba's foreign policy. Cuba earns a lot of money by sending doctors to work for pay in other countries. And it also has a sort of public health diplomacy in which sends doctors for no charge to places that need them. And those most recent places are these other islands in the Caribbean.

MARTIN: I understand that some of the smaller Caribbean islands saw much more extensive damage from Irma. Can you tell us about that?

WEISSENSTEIN: The Leeward Islands on the northeast edge of the Caribbean were hit first and were hit worst and are taking the longest to recover. St. Martin, St. Barts, the U.S. Virgin Islands were all very badly with massive structural damage and outages that still continue. And the French and Dutch and U.S. governments that have jurisdiction there have been trying to send in aid and law enforcement, but things are still very bad in all those places.

MARTIN: Were any of these islands evacuated? Were there any evacuation efforts made from any of these places?

WEISSENSTEIN: Evacuation has begun. Various militaries - the Dutch, the French, the U.S., Puerto Rican National Guard - have been taking people off of these islands in the last couple of days. And there's even a cruise ship headed to St. Thomas, I believe, to take even more people off. I think about 2,000 can get on board that one.

MARTIN: So we understand that in a number of places, I mean, most of the structures have been damaged. Do you have any sense of what the worst hit is? I mean, what is the place that people should be most concerned about now?

WEISSENSTEIN: St. Martin is really the one where I think the situation is the most terrible. We're hearing about 90 percent of the structures damaged, water out, power out, looting, shots fired. I think the French and the Dutch, which jointly controlled the island, are starting to get a grip on the situation there, sending more troops, more aid. But that's the place that was really in terrible shape for the longest.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, we understand that there is another hurricane behind Irma in the Atlantic. It seems as - Jose is still out there. Do you have a sense of whether Jose is going to pose a further threat to the area?

WEISSENSTEIN: There was a lot of fear about a one-two punch from Irma and Jose. I think, you know, these countries, these islands that were devastated like St. Martin, St. Barts, got more rain and more wind, which is never good. But this sort of second round of devastation hasn't materialized.

MARTIN: That's Michael Weissenstein. He's Caribbean bureau chief for The Associated Press. He's with us now from Havana. Michael, thanks so much for speaking with us.

WEISSENSTEIN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.