Cuba has been spared the worst of Tropical Storm Laura, which was battering most of the island Monday with heavy rains and coastal swells in low-lying areas without causing the kind of catastrophic damage seen in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Laura made landfall near Santiago de Cuba on Sunday night, and was still moving along the island's southern coast on Monday.
At 2 p.m., its center was 15 miles off Cayo Largo del Sur, south of Matanzas. The storm has sustained winds of 60 miles per hour and could intensify as it moves over the warm waters off the Cuban coast, according to forecasts by the Cuban Institute of Meteorology.
The National Civil Defense issued a "cyclonic alarm" advisory for all the eastern and central provinces, except Camaguey. As of Monday afternoon, no deaths or significant damage were reported.
As the storm left the eastern side of the island during the morning, the local press reported power outages and many fallen trees. In Santiago de Cuba, there were interruptions in the telephone service that began Sunday night. According to the official newspaper Granma, preliminary reports in Guantanamo show damages to banana crops and the roofs of houses and state institutions.
According to Radio Bayamo, firefighters also extinguished two large fires at a school and a poultry farm in Santiago de Cuba.
Some rural communities in the mountains of Granma province have been cut off due to river flooding, local newspaper La Demajagua reported. Images from the coastal city of Baracoa, in Holguin, show the storm's waves spilling over the city's seawall and beyond on Sunday.
After hopes that Laura would weaken after passing through the mountainous Hispaniola faded, the government rushed evacuations in coastal cities and near rivers. Nine thousand people were evacuated in Cauto Cristo, a community in the eastern province of Granma near the Cauto, Cuba's longest river. Another 400 people were evacuated in the coastal city of Santa Cruz del Sur in Camaguey. In Villa Clara, in the center of the country, the government organized the evacuation of about 45,000 people. In all cases, most took shelter in the homes of family members and neighbors.
By the end of the morning, heavy rains were pouring over the island's central region.
"About an hour ago it started to rain very hard, and the wind increased. Right now, we are all locked in the house," said Fidel Prieto from Trinidad, a city in central Cuba.