Old computer processors whirred and paint crumbled from the walls in the National Prognostic Center of Cuba’sMeteorological Institute, set on a rise above Havana’s old city. They monitor the region’s weather every day, but their gaze grows especially intense in hurricane season. When a storm is approaching, “we call the National Prognostic Center or they call us, whoever gets to the phone first,” said Lixion Avila, a senior specialist at the United States government’s National Hurricane Center. Still, he and other analysts emphasized that Cuba would have suffered a great deal more if not for its well-rehearsed storm preparation system. In the event of a storm, the head of every institution — schools, hospitals, hotels — is considered a member of the Cuban Civil Defense force, responsible for the well-being of people around them.

As the center’s director, Jose Rubiera, explained, almost every hurricane that strikes the Southern United States passes through Cuba first.
The Center for International Policy, a research and advocacy group based in Washington, says a person is 15 times as likely to be killed by a hurricane in the United States as in Cuba. Rubiera is the nation’s sole hurricane forecaster, much praised by Cubans for his calm, authoritative manner.
He has since become a specialist on disaster preparedness and has traveled to Cuba three times in recent years. The island did suffer a body blow last fall from Hurricane Sandy, the second-biggest storm in Cuban history.

Before it struck the United States’ Eastern Seaboard, Sandy slammed into Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second-largest city.

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