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Paloma hits coast of Cuba

Crashing waves and a powerful sea surge from Hurricane Paloma destroyed hundreds of homes along Cuba's southern coast, but the storm rapidly weakened into a tropical depression Sunday as it moved over the island.

Early damage reports were limited, but government media said the late-season storm toppled a major communications tower, interrupted electricity and phone service, and sent sea water almost a mile inland. Flooding and winds ravaged a coastal community near where it made landfall.

No storm-related deaths were immediately reported.

Officials had feared that Paloma could slow Cuba's recovery from Gustav and Ike, devastating hurricanes that struck earlier this year, causing about $9.4 billion in damage and destroying nearly a third of the island's crops.

But Vicente de la O of Cuba's national power company said damage to the power grid was far less than that caused by Gustav and Ike in late August and early September.

Paloma roared ashore near Santa Cruz del Sur late Saturday as a Category 4 hurricane but quickly lost strength, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. By late afternoon Sunday, the storm's winds had weakened to 35 mph. The hurricane center's forecast said Paloma or its remnants should be near the north coast of Cuba today.

On Sunday, waves more than 10 feet high leveled about 50 modest houses along the coast of Santa Cruz del Sur. Civil defense authorities said altogether 435 homes in the community were destroyed. Javier Ramos told The Associated Press he rebuilt his simple wood-frame house in the town after Hurricane Ike, only to watch Paloma flatten it again.

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