July hurricanes are rare — Cuba has faced only three in the past 205 years. Dennis hit Cuba July 8 along the island’s southern coast, with rains up to 30 inches in some places and winds averaging 135 mph. It cut a wide swath across Cuba’s territory, posing serious difficulties for the country’s civil defense forces.

In the afternoon, Dennis headed north across central Cuba, exiting late in the evening over Matanzas Province, east of Havana. Serious flooding occurred in low-lying areas west of Santiago and east of Havana. Crops, houses, power lines, and radio and television transmission towers sustained heavy damage.

Hurricane Dennis killed 16 people in eastern Cuba, despite the evacuation of more than 200,000 people to 800 shelters. Hurricane-related deaths in Cuba are unusual.

At a special Round Table television presentation, July 7, chief meteorologist Jose Rubiera suggested that higher than normal water temperatures in the western Caribbean Sea, caused by global warming, account for the unusually early onset of the hurricane season this year.

The cooperative, collective approach of the Cuban people is of inestimable value in the wholesale removal of people to safe areas during such storms. They move into schools and the homes of relatives or strangers. Local authorities store people’s possessions in protected facilities and move farm animals away from the storm’s path. Provincial officials install power generators in hospitals, homes for the elderly and bakeries.

The record levels of rain provided by Dennis had a bright side. They helped replenish 235 reservoirs that supply Cuba’s water needs. As of May, the reservoirs held only 27 percent of their potential capacity. Increased rain during May and June brought them up to 35 percent of capacity. Dennis brought even more rain, good news for a country suffering its worst drought in 103 years.