HOLGUIN, Cuba (AP) — Hurricane Sandy rumbled across mountainous eastern Cuba on Thursday as a Category 2 storm, bringing heavy rains and blistering winds that ripped the roofs off homes and damaged fragile coffee and tomato crops, but caused no known fatalities on the island.
Two people died elsewhere in the Caribbean.
Even as it pummeled Cuba's rural eastern half, Sandy refused to lose intensity as storms normally do when they cross over land, raising fears that small mountain villages still unheard from might not have been ready for its wrath.
"It crossed the entire eastern region practically without losing intensity or structure," said Jose Rubiera, the island's chief meteorologist.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Sandy emerged off Cuba's northeast coast around dawn and was moving north at 18 mph (30 kph), with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph). It was expected to remain a hurricane as it moves through the Bahamas.
Santiago, Cuba's second largest city near the eastern tip of the island, was spared the worst of the storm, which slammed into the provinces of Granma, Holguin and Las Tunas.
Some 5,000 tourists at beach resorts in Holguin were evacuated ahead of the storm, along with 10,200 residents, according to Cuban media. Another 3,000 people in low lying areas of Las Tunas were moved away before Sandy arrived.
State-run media said there was damage to coffee and tomato crops in Granma province but not as bad as had been feared.
Residents emerged from their homes early Thursday after a night without power, finding palm trees and some electric poles strewn across roads, blocking traffic.
Norje Pupo, a 66-year-old retiree in Holguin, was helping his son clean up early Thursday after an enormous tree toppled over in his garden.
"The hurricane really hit us hard," he said. "As you can see, we were very affected. The houses are not poorly made here, but some may have been damaged."